Last week, a divided Indiana House voted — against the public's interest, we believe — to eliminate mandatory newspaper publication of sheriff's sale notices. The House voted 62-34 to require the listings be posted on a sheriff's or county government's website instead.
The measure's sponsor, state Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, said the change will modernize the state's public notice system and eliminate the widely variable cost of placing sheriff's sale ads in local newspapers across the state.
She stressed that it is time for such governmental activities to shift solely online. It is an assumption many state representatives who voted in favor of House Bill 1212 likely share. But it is an assumption not borne out by the facts or the will of most Hoosiers.
State Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville — who participates regularly in sheriff's sales — said in his experience most people who attend a sheriff's sale in Greene County are carrying the local newspaper, clearly having looked through the listings and often highlighting the properties they intend to bid on.
He said, "If you look at the statistics at the unique users of the government websites — no matter what it is — it is just abysmal compared to the people that read their local newspaper."
And state Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, pointed out that a sheriff's sale listing in a newspaper may be the only way a homeowner learns he or she has been financially scammed by a relative or even a stranger and that his or her property is at risk.
Austin also pointed to the cost-shifting that would accompany the move to online — to the county sheriff's offices, whose employees will have to compile, post, maintain and archive the "free" online sale record.
The elderly, the disabled and those who are out of the country, such as members of the armed forces, may think their affairs are being handled by someone they trust, but that is not always the case. The Times recently chronicled two incidents of elderly women nearly losing their homes were it not for a neighbor noticing the homes' listing in an upcoming sheriff's sale in the local newspaper.
This proposal likely will be taken up in the Senate in March. The Times exhorts state senators throughout the state to heed the bipartisan views of Borders and Austin in the chamber next door and vote against this misguided bill or, better yet, choose not to move it out of committee.
By running such notices in newspapers, many more people will see them and widen the pool of prospective bidders beyond the few savvy professional house-flippers and attorneys who would prefer to restrict bidders to a select few and, thus, keep the price lower.
Moreover, running the notices in newspapers comports with the wishes of the majority of Hoosiers who have spoken overwhelmingly in favor of the long-standing practice.
Public-notice advertising is well read in Indiana, with 85 percent of adults saying public ads are an important role of government agencies; a 2017 survey found more than 64 percent of Indiana adults said those agencies should be required by law to publish them.
It is clearly in the public's best interest to continue to publish sheriff's sale public notices in local newspapers, and it also is clearly the will of the majority of Indiana citizens.