The Vanishing Public Notice: Will Gov. Wes Moore Sign HB1258 (And Should He)?

The ongoing debate over placement of public notices in paid newspaper ads has taken a new turn in Maryland. The legislature has passed a bill (HB1258) that would place estate notices on a government-operated website. 

Newspaper advocates are calling on Gov. Wes Moore (D) to veto the measure, saying it will result in closure of local news outlets. But supporters of the legislation are pushing back, arguing that such notices should no longer have to be placed in what one critic calls a “government-mandated ad program.”

That old requirement “exhibits many economic inefficiencies, the key one is that local newspapers no longer efficiently distribute legal ads,” writes J.H. (Jim) Snider on the Maryland Matters site.  

Snider continues, “This government giveaway is also unjust, as it often effectively taxes the poorest Marylanders to subsidize mostly large, out-of-state, media companies owned by some of the wealthiest individuals in America.” 



Case in point: In Frederick County, “the beneficiaries of a regular estate must pay $343 to place such ads in the Frederick News-Post,” Snider argues. “Since publishers demand that the fee be paid upfront – sometimes years before an estate is distributed to its beneficiaries – it is especially hard on those lacking savings."

Snider adds, “According to the Maryland Register of Wills Association, 22 of Maryland’s 24 counties are served by local newspapers owned by companies with out-of-state headquarters.” 

We were unable to confirm or rebut that claim at deadline, although large newspaper chains doubtless do benefit from government-mandated notices.  

But small newsrooms are struggling against economic headwinds, often resulting in news deserts in many locales. They are not owned by wealthy people from out-of-state – indeed, some are nonprofits. 

“We believe that HB 1258 will create a seismic change in the local media landscape that will decimate and potentially prompt the closure of local news outlets,” wrote Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland Delaware DC Press Association (MDDC), in April.  

Snider writes that HB1258 would “centralize estate notices on a government-operated website alone, effectively pulling critical information for creditors and heirs into a subject-specific website that requires a user to have reliable internet access AND to know where to look for the information.”  

That’s the state of the argument. Now it’s up to Gov. Moore. 


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