Legal notices bill moves to House floor

A state House panel endorsed legislation Thursday that would allow The Advocate to compete for publishing legal notices in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

The Municipal Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee voted 12-2 for the legislation, which was strongly opposed by the NOLA Media Group.

Under the law, a newspaper in each parish must be selected to run judicial advertisements and legal notices.

The newspaper must meet certain requirements in each year of the five-year period prior to its selection, including delivering news of general interest, maintaining a general paid circulation and publishing not less than weekly.

House Bill 787 would exempt from the five-year requirement “a daily newspaper with a general paid circulation if such newspaper has maintained a public business office in Orleans Parish for eight consecutive months prior to Jan. 1, 2014.” The exemption applies to The Advocate, which publishes newspapers in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.

State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, sponsor of the bill, recalled how in 2012 the Legislature passed special legislation to allow the NOLA Media Group to compete after its Times-Picayune newspaper went from daily publication to three times a week.

Now, The Advocate is publishing daily in New Orleans and Jefferson, Arnold said.

“We have another opportunity … of a viable paper to publicize those notices,” he said. “It allows for competition, which is good for local government.”

NOLA Media Group executive David Francis said The Advocate does not have sufficient circulation in the two parishes to be considered for the legal notice business. He said there are already four publications that qualify under existing law.

“It’s to benefit one particular individual,” Francis said. “It benefits one publication.”

NOLA lobbyist Kevin Cunningham said the five-year rule is there to allow time “to establish credibility among the people who read the paper.”

“You should not change just because you have a newspaper that wants to come in and do that type of advertising,” Cunningham said.

Arnold said the legislation does not set a precedent “because we did it in 2012 for the Times-Picayune to allow them to remain the journal. That’s why I think we are not showing favoritism.”

“All we are doing is allowing another paper to bid,” he said. “It doesn’t give them the job.”

He said the Times-Picayune “just doesn’t want the competition.”

The Advocate’s general manager, Dan Shea, said The New Orleans Advocate by itself is the second-largest daily newspaper in the state — behind only The Advocate in Baton Rouge. He said 29,000 copies are sold per day in the Orleans metro region.

Shea said he worked for the Times-Picayune for 19 years and was among hundreds laid off when “an out-of-state company decided New Orleans did not deserve a daily newspaper.

“One reason this is occurring is the people in New Orleans and Jefferson want us there,” he said. “We have the support of the community.”

Before approving HB787, the panel overwhelmingly rejected state Rep. Barbara Norton’s attempt to eliminate The Advocate as the official state journal.