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Legal Notice Bill HB 7049 Passes House and Senate; Sent to Governor for Approval

Legal Notice Bill HB 7049 Passes House and Senate; Sent to Governor for Approval

The legal notice bill, HB 7049 giving governmental agencies the option to place legal notices on county websites, and making other changes, passed the House and Senate last week and is now headed to the Governor for approval.

Background

The bill passed despite the compromise reached last year and the many hours of time and resources that had gone into implementing it. Rather than giving the compromise time to work (it had been effective less than 90 days), and ignoring emerging trends that legislative goals were in fact being met, the current bill was suddenly filed two weeks into the session. It was fast-tracked through the House and then sent to the Senate during the last week of session. There was never a Senate companion bill and, bypassing standard vetting procedures, the House bill was heard in a single committee and then sent to the Senate floor for passage.

Unfortunately, this took place due to a confluence of several powerful political forces that had come together to make it very difficult to defeat the bill. Despite those headwinds, FPA and its members and allies opposed it vigorously all session, making it clear that the government website option is bad not only for community newspapers but, even more importantly, for Florida citizens who will be the ultimate losers in terms of lost transparency and notice.

We are grateful for all those who contributed to the fight, including those who contacted legislators, wrote editorials and stories, ran ads, and came to Tallahassee to testify.

As noted, the bill will be forwarded to the Governor for approval.  FPA has sent a letter asking Governor DeSantis to veto it.

Here is a breakdown of the bill’s provisions:

Summary

The bill’s effective date is January 1, 2023.

The bill reverts the criteria a newspaper must satisfy to be qualified back to the criteria in place before passage of last year’s law, with a couple of changes.

Under the bill, legal ads/public notices may be placed in free newspapers that meet the audience thresholds contained in last year’s bill.  Further, newspapers that have a periodicals permit can run the notices (the phase-out periodicals permit language from last year’s bill was struck and is no longer applicable).

“Government agencies” may opt to use the county’s “official website” (or other private website designated by the county) in the county in which it lies to publish legal ads, instead of a newspaper. The following requirements apply:

  • The governmental agency can use this option if doing so would cost less than publishing legal notices in a newspaper.
  • The agency using the option must provide annual notice in a newspaper that property owners and residents may receive legal notices from the governmental agency by first-class mail or e-mail upon registering with the agency.  The agency must maintain a registry of property owners and residents who request in writing to receive legal notices from the governmental agency by mail or e-mail.
  • The bill requires that a link to legal notices published on a publicly accessible website be conspicuously placed on or accessible through a direct link from the:
    1. publicly accessible website’s homepage
    2. homepage of the website of each governmental agency publishing legal notices online.
  • If the notice is placed on the county website, the notice is not required to be uploaded to the aggregate site at floridapublicnotices.com (this continues to be required if placed in the newspaper).
  • For smaller counties, an agency that has at least 75 percent of its population located in a county with a population of fewer than 160,000 (37 counties) must first hold a public hearing and determine the residents of the governmental agency have sufficient access to the internet before it may publish legal ad on the county website.
  • Each legal notice so published must be in searchable form and indicate the date of first publication.
  • A form affidavit must be sworn to by the appropriate person that the ad was published on the county/publicly accessible website.

Regarding public and private notices, there seems to be some confusion about whether privately placed notices like foreclosures, storage unit notices, fictitious names, probate, etc., can be placed only on a county website. There is statutory language in the various substantive notice sections and in the staff analysis that indicates newspaper notice must be used. There is other language in the bill that suggests some of these notices may be placed on the county websites. We think the overall intent is that use of government websites is for government/agency notices only.

Next steps

We will continue to oppose the bad public policy of placing notice on government websites. We will be proactively working with FPA members to ensure that they understand the bill and to mitigate its negative effects.  Ideas include reinstating our active PN marketing and communications team to help with ongoing communications through our bi-weekly E-Bulletin, talk tracks, and FPA member webinars/roundtables and multi-media marketing campaigns targeting county agencies to tell our compelling story to keep as much public notice revenue as we can. Q and A’s will be posted soon on the FPA website public notice resource page.