A bill passed by both houses of the Louisiana Legislature and now on its way to the governor’s desk could end The Times-Picayune’s decades-long monopoly on publishing the lucrative mandatory legal notices from public agencies.
Clarification: The bill and this story refers only to state-required judicial notices issued by various agencies, a substantial subset of all legal notices, bids, advertisements and other “official journal” requirements that now appear in The Times-Picayune.
The Times-Picayune’s status as the paper of record was untenable after it announced it was scaling back its print run to three times a week this fall. State law previously required that legal notices be published in a daily newspaper.
Lawmakers responded last week with a measure governing New Orleans legal notices that deletes almost all references to “daily” newspapers, and potentially gives other local news outlets access to government advertising dollars.
At stake is a reliable advertising base paid by state and local governments to run legal notices in local papers.*
The revised public-notice law, House Bill 1144, is now on its way to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk for his expected approval. It adds language that could benefit The Gambit, the city’s alternative weekly.
The law says that weekly newspapers with a circulation of above 30,000 will be eligible to run public notices. Gambit’s circulation was around 40,000, according to 2009 figures.
Orleans Parish remains the only parish in Louisiana that requires public notices to run in daily newspapers. The amended law was “condoned by everyone except The Times-Picayune,” State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said Monday.
Morrell said the lion’s share of the money generated by public notices is spent in New Orleans by the city and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. The rest is the state’s typical share of public-notice ad buys.*
Morrell said “the City Council will decide who the reporter will be,” and expected a debate among elected officials over whether The Times-Picayune, The Louisiana Weekly or The Gambit will earn the designation as the official journal.
According to multiple online resources, The Louisiana Weekly does not appear to have a circulation that eclipses even 10,000, let alone 30,000.
State records show that Gambit hired Baton Rouge lobbyist Thomas Jay Spradley on May 29.
The revised public-notice statute was proposed and passed both houses by May 31.
Spradley did not return a phone call seeking comment about his role, if any, in advocating for the amended law.
The lobbying group representing the state’s press isn’t worried about the governor’s veto pen.
“I don’t anticipate by any stretch that [Jindal] is going to veto,” said Johnny Koch, a registered lobbyist with the Louisiana Press Association.
*Correction: This story originally reported that State Sen. J.P. Morrell said the city of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office spend up to $6 million a year on legal notices in New Orleans, and various state agencies spend another $500,000 to $1 million. Morrell has since told The Lens that he believes those figures, which he got from a lobbyist, vastly overstate the value of government legal notices in New Orleans. (March 27, 2015)