Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Bell, is pushing Assembly Bill 642 sponsored by AOL. Just when you thought that antique Internet service was obsolete it manages to get a gullible assemblyman to single-handedly subsidize AOL by allowing Internet-only “publications” to publish legal ads. AB 642 has been assigned to the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It ought to be assigned to the round file, along with those inflated salaries Bell city officials paid themselves.
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This is a scheme to play hide and seek with legal ads. Instead of the requirement that legally adjudicated newspapers have “substantial paid circulation” this bill would substitute the vague and legally nonsensical notion of “substantial regular readership.” That last daffynition would mean news aggregators (we call them news ripoff artists), bloggers and automated operations like AOL’s Patch sites and, as the California Newspaper Publishers Association suggested, even a weekly kitty video. Any of the Websites could be operated from Europe or Nigeria.
Legal ads come in four basic categories. Delinquent tax listings, home loan defaults and auction notices, proposed ordinances and developments, fictitious business names. All require proof of publication, something not provable on the Internet.
Delinquent tax listings, which in the early days of this newspaper were listed on the front page, are vital to county government and the taxpayers. Without publication of this list some people may not know they are arrears in their property taxes. A neighbor who knows the person or how to contact an out-of-town property owner will see their name and give them a friendly reminder. A person might see his or her name on the list and first come to realize they forgot to pay their property taxes. Again, proof of publication, which can only come from a newspaper, is a key piece of evidence if a delinquent property proceeds to the next level, which could ultimately result in a tax sale.
Notice of loan defaults are important to be published publicly for the same reason delinquent tax lists need to be publicly printed. And if a home or property is going to be auctioned off on the courthouse steps, then it should not be hidden from view in some mystery-meat Website, but should be printed in a newspaper. If it is not printed in a newspaper then the auction will just be a corrupt sale between insiders.
If city and county ordinances, developement proposals and other meeting notices are not printed in the paper then government will begin operating with little or no citizen participation. Pretty soon half of what our local government does will look like a private club, with limited memberships for sale.
Finally, there are fictitious business names. People starting businesses are required to publish the name of their business to make it legal and open a bank account under that name. Only by publishing these names can another business learn that someone has taken a name that is already in use. Or perhaps someone has left a trail of bad debts and decided to change the name of the business to avoid the bill collectors. Publication of the name of the business deters this.
And let’s not forget that not everyone has a computer. Not everyone who has a computer would know where to look for public notices or would even bother to look. Everybody knows they can find public notices in their local newspaper. And that’s the way it should stay. There is no hide-and-seek in newspapers. Everything is there in black and white and it is read all over. And you bet, we have many subscribers who read it cover to cover.