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Effort To Move Foreclosure Notices Online Fails In Legislature

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Legislative Session Coverage

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami.com) – Despite the fact that there are almost as many homes with computers as there are with televisions, the state of Florida is not yet ready to move home foreclosure notices off the printed page and onto a webpage, killing that proposal Tuesday after intense lobbying by newspapers and groups representing the elderly and minorities.

The bill, HB 149, was killed by the House Civil Justice subcommittee, frustrating sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

Baxley argued that county clerks of court should be able to decide whether to continue the decades-old practice of publishing foreclosure notices in newspapers or placing them on non-newspaper websites, usually at a considerable savings of tax dollars.

Baxley described a state law requiring newspaper publication as “corporate welfare” for the industry and as an outdated monopoly, and likened Florida to staying in the ‘horse and buggy days’.

“They’re up here protecting their interests,” Baxley said. “I’m trying to show you the future.”

For newspapers, the “future” is a codeword for “less income”, as more people have moved from classified advertising in print publications to less expensive alternatives on the internet. Classified and legal advertising have always been lucrative for financially hard-hit newspapers, and government regulations have protected that revenue stream even as other users have abandoned print.

Newspaper-industry officials said most papers already put notices online, along with publishing them in print, but while true, that does not address the charges clerks must pay.

Debates about publishing legal notices in newspapers have flared repeatedly in recent years, as the public has increasingly turned to the Internet for information and as government agencies have put more and more documents online.

Newspapers, meanwhile, have taken a financial hit as classified advertising has rushed to Internet sites, such as Craigslist.

Duval County Clerk of Courts Jim Fuller, a former Republican House member, told the subcommittee that he has moved toward becoming a paperless operation and backed Baxley’s bill for foreclosure notices.

“I would like the option in Duval County to do mine on the Internet,” Fuller said.

The newspapers have been supported in their efforts by the AARP, which represents seniors, and by the NAACP, representing minorities.

They opposed the bill because their constituencies may not have computers in the home, may not be able to afford internet access, or simply not be comfortable with trying to find the information electronically.

But supporters of the bill said it would leave it up to local clerks about whether they wanted to continue to run notices in newspapers or use a website. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who backed the bill, suggested opponents might have another motivation for voting no.

“People don’t want to upset their periodicals back home,” he said.

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