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Bill to publish foreclosure notices online only dies in committee

TALLAHASSEE — Lawmakers on Tuesday killed a Republican-backed push to move legal notices of foreclosures to the Internet and away from the newspaper industry, which has benefited from the notice requirement for decades.

A divided House panel weighed the benefits of continuing to provide elderly, poor and less Web-savvy state residents with the ability to read the notices in a local newspaper vs, allowing county clerks to move forward in the digital age.

Ultimately, four Republicans joined Democrats of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee to defeat HB 149. Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, was one of them, saying he wanted to preserve "the last bastion of protection" for some elderly Hispanics in Hillsborough County who rely on smaller papers to get this kind of information.

"I just don't think we're there yet," Harrison said.

Legal notices are published in newspapers each year by the hundreds of thousands, a step required by law before a lender can foreclose on a home. It might have made sense for newspapers to carry the notices in 1941, but nowadays it's essentially a subsidy for an industry ceding its popularity to the Internet, bill supporters said.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, would have allowed county clerks to decide whether to publish the notices on a website rather than the newspaper, and provided instructions for bidding on a contract with a vendor.

"This notion that the Internet is somehow not an acceptable form of communication, I think, went out of style with the Backstreet Boys in about 1995," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

The county clerks association remained neutral.

Opponents included AARP, Florida TaxWatch, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Press Association, a trade group whose members include the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. Former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, representing the Keep the Public Noticed Coalition, said periodicals already put the information online for free.

"We should be aiming to cast the widest net possible," he said.

Baxley pleaded with his colleagues to keep the proposal alive for a possible House vote.

"They're up here protecting their interests," he said of the newspaper lobbyists. "I'm trying to show you the future."

His bill died by a 9-5 vote.

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