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SB 535 could hurt newspapers

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Senate Bill 535 has proven to be a Chameleon of sorts (an old-world lizard who changes colors frequently) in the Indiana House of Representatives, What was once known to Henry County residents as an important wind farm issue is now drawing attention because of what it could do to Indiana newspapers.

The bill would cap a newspaper legal advertisement charge at $250, no matter how much space the ad needs. An amendment Monday on the House floor that would have deleted that advertising stipulation failed 54-39.

State Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) voted to take the amendment out of the bill.

“I think since the state tells newspapers what has to be put in these notices that it’s not fair to cap the fees,” Saunders said.

Courier-Times Publisher Marka Sonoga had this to say about SB 535.

“If a public notice advertisement takes up a full page of space in the paper, our costs are higher to produce this ad because we are using more resources (data entry, graphics, newsprint, ink, etc.) than we would for say a quarter page public notice advertisement, and the two different sizes should be charged accordingly,” Sonoga said. “There are costs associated to creating and publishing advertisements in the newspaper, and SB 535 is not taking that into consideration at all.”

Saunders and Sonoga were not alone in their criticism of the bill’s capping a newspaper’s ability to charge for legal ads.

During debate Monday, State Rep. Terri Austin (D-Anderson) said the fee was totally unfair to newspapers, which are struggling to survive in an electronic and social media driven-world.

“These are the folks who promote church dinners, cover your local sports teams and keep your communities alive,” she said. “If we applied the same standard to ourselves, we’d vote to eliminate our franking (mail) privileges today. We spend money on thousands of reams of paper here. That is the price of democracy.

“We don’t tell civil engineers how much they can charge,” Austin continued. “It’s publicly bid. This amendment sends the wrong message.”

SB 535 was scheduled to be debated and possibly voted on late Tuesday.