Bill to relax legal notices mandate defeated after Utah lawmakers question its impact on newspaper revenue

A bill loosening the requirement that legal notices be published in a local newspaper was defeated Tuesday in a 35-39 vote of the Utah House.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, argued that the notices are costly and inefficient, as legal parties can be individually notified without general publication. But Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, objected to the bill, saying that notices provide critical revenue to newspapers, particularly smaller publications that serve Utah’s rural communities.

“Large newspapers with large circulation can replace that revenue with commercial ads,” Nelson said. “This is an unnecessary provision that appears to do more harm than good.”

The proposal generated atypical divisions within the chamber, with both Republicans and Democrats voting for and against Coleman’s bill, HB69.

Freshman Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, said she was unfamiliar with legal notices and asked Coleman to explain them. And Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem, suggested there was a “generational shift" at play in the debate over HB69, adding that he has never received a newspaper and turned down an offer of free Wall Street Journal editions from a neighbor.

“I don’t think we should be in the business of propping up newspapers around the state,” Roberts said.

Coleman said her intent was not to harm rural and community papers, referencing The Valley Journals — now called The City Journals — a network of free community newspapers serving municipalities in Salt Lake County.

“That is our town newspaper,” Coleman said. “If I want to know that Copper Hills [High School] drill team won state again, that’s where I can go.”

She said her bill preserved the requirement that public notices — information of more general public interest — be published in a newspaper, but that her bill was narrowly tailored to address the notification of parties to a legal action.

“This is a waste of money,” she said.