Senate panel sides with Advocate on public notices

State lawmakers advanced a bill Tuesday that would allow The New Orleans Advocate to compete for the business of publishing legal notices in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

The bill came under fire from the NOLA Media Group, which delivers a rival paper The Times Picayune — three days a week.

State law says each parish in the state must designate a newspaper as the official publication to run judicial advertisements and legal notices.

In order to be selected, newspapers are required to meet a number of different stipulations, among them is a requirement that the publication must have been physically located in the parish for five years.

The last stipulation is a problem for The New Orleans Advocate, which put down roots in New Orleans in 2012 but is the community’s only daily, home-delivered newspaper.

Senate Bill 630, sponsored by state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, would lift that five-year restriction allowing The New Orleans Advocate to compete with the NOLA Media Group over the lucrative public notices.

The measure advanced out of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee without opposition. It’s the second straight victory for The New Orleans Advocate, which last week saw the nearly identical House Bill 787 pass out of the Municipal Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee on a 12-2 vote.

Many of the points argued last week were rehashed Tuesday, with NOLA Media Group executive David Francis telling lawmakers The New Orleans Advocate doesn’t have a sufficient number of subscribers to carry the notices.

He put The New Orleans Advocate’s circulation at 15,121 in the seven-parish area around New Orleans — a figure Advocate executives say is outdated.

Francis further said HB787 is changing the rules and giving an unfair advantage to one specific newspaper.

That comment drew the ire of Martiny, who reminded his colleagues that the Legislature passed special legislation in 2012 to allow the NOLA Media Group to compete after The Times-Picayune went from daily publication to three times a week.

“I’m not asking you to give anything to The Advocate but the opportunity to bid and compete,” he said.

The disparity over circulation numbers led to some pushback from The Advocate’s general manager, Dan Shea, who said The New Orleans Advocate prints more than 29,000 papers each day.

“I find it a little offensive that someone I worked with for 19 years would suggest that I’m lying,” Shea said to Francis. The two formerly worked together at The Times-Picayune.

SB630 now goes to the House for further consideration.