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LRC Issue Memo: Internet Not Universally Accessible, So Let’s Keep Printing Legal Notices on Dead Trees

The currently headless Legislative Research Council popped out four new Issue Memoranda for the Executive Board’s Tuesday meeting, including a nice little brief on the “Publication of Legal Notice“. The memo compares the criteria for “legal newspaper” status in South Dakota with criteria in all of our neighboring states.

Worth noting: Iowa requires that newspapers print legal notices with a minimum font size of 6 points. That makes me want to suggest a revision of South Dakota’s petition law, which democracy-sabotaging Republicans rigged in 2021 with a requirement of 14-point font.

None of our neighboring states appear to allow exclusively online legal notices. The LRC acknowledges that publishing legal notices online would have some advantages, but it concludes that both electronic and print forms remain necessary:

Each form of providing information seems to be necessary, at least for now. For all its ubiquity, the internet is not readily available at all times or in all places. There are places where high-speed internet is not available. There are also generations of Americans who do not regularly access the internet, even if it is available, but still regularly read newspapers. At the same time, there are also generations of Americans who do not read newspapers and receive all of their information from the internet. Social media is able to disseminate information quickly, but a permanent, reliable, and official depository of information may still be necessary to ensure that the information being disseminated remains accurate. As technology continues to develop, the question of how to most effectively notify those persons who need notification will continue to evolve along with it [Jacob Carlson, research analyst, Legislative Research Council Issue Memo: “Publication of Legal Notice,” draft posted 2023.11.14].

Accessibility is a ridiculous argument for keeping requirements that local governments pay newspapers to print hundreds or thousands of copies of their legal notices. Newspapers are less accessible than the Internet. I own and actively use four devices to access the Internet, three of which I can carry around with me almost anywhere. I can access the Internet and retrieve new legal notices the moment I roll out of bed—or, heck, without even getting out of bed. If I’m traveling and can’t get Internet, I just drive over the next hill and find signal. If I go to Hy-Vee and find they’re out of newspapers, I can’t just hit a button and get a fresh copy; I have to travel to another of just a few select locations that sell newspapers. I can get a newspaper delivered to my home a few days a week, but while the papers used to send eager youths on bicycles around before the crack of dawn with their hot-off-the-press publications, now we’re more often waiting for the United States Postal Service to make its later rounds with day-old paper.

Permanent record in an official depository is a better argument for maintaining a print requirement, but we don’t need a thousand print copies. Let each governing body print two official copies of its legal notices. Require one copy to be kept in the office of that governing body, and require the other to be filed at the courthouse with the register of deeds. Minnesota and North Dakota require that legal newspapers a copy of each print edition to the state historical society; why not cut out the middle-people for legal notices and have the local governments generating agendas and minutes and grand decrees send their legal notices to an independent archivist themselves? Putting a stamp on a few-page document or dropping off minutes at the courthouse would cost less than buying column space in a crumplable tabloid.

Paper has its uses. So do horseshoes. But the fact that a few people may still prefer to get around on horseback should not require local governments to maintain hitching posts outside their offices. When better, cheaper, more efficient and accessible technology comes along, we shouldn’t require people to keep using the older, more expensive, less efficient and less accessible technology.


  1. Donald Pay 2023-11-15 08:53

    I used to be a public notice nerd. I would peruse that section of the daily newspaper as much as the front page. It always seemed to me that today’s public notices would be next week’s front page news. Of course, not all of the notices were important to me. Quite a few were not important to much of anybody, but I’d at least glance at them. My bitch with public notices is they are often NOT required to be printed in the paper(s) I was reading. The stuff I was interested in occurred all over the state, and I would have had to have a subscription to every piddly weekly newspaper to make sure I was getting the information I wanted.

    Right now anyone can get most information state notices right from the agency in question. For example I can go right to the DENR (I refuse to call it DANR) website to get information on board hearings, permits, etc. Yeah, you used to be able to put your name on a list at a state agency and they would send all the notices on a particular subject to you. I did that, but it seemed an awful waste of paper, now that I look back on it. I like the internet, but reading all those public notices on the computer, if I was still going to do that, would certainly strain the eyes.

    There’s good and bad with every system of providing information to the public. I agree with the LRC memo. Have a number of ways to notify the public.

  2. Ben Cerwinske 2023-11-15 10:58

    If we don’t print public notices, I guess that’s fine. However, our problem with waste has more to do with things that shouldn’t have been produced in the first place. A public notice has actual value.

  3. LCJ 2023-11-15 13:34

    There are still a lot of older people that have no idea how to use electronic devices and don’t feel they should.
    What is so unsettling is you are sounding like Lee Schoenbeckl

  4. Dicta 2023-11-15 13:45

    Believe it or not, LCJ, people can agree on some things and disagree on others. Like Benito Mussolini, I think food is necessary to live. Doesn’t mean Il Duce and I are indistinguishable.

    Old people were once incensed when the postal service began moving away from the pony express. Progress happens, and we shouldn’t stick to outdated methods because a bunch of luddites whine about the loss of Laura Ingalls-Wilder.

  5. LCJ 2023-11-15 14:29

    So, I can put you on the anti-senior citizen list? Got it.

  6. Arlo Blundt 2023-11-15 17:08

    I’m all for mandatory printing of public notices in local newspapers. I feel meeting minutes of school boards, city councils and County Boards and Commissions are especially important. It is, in my mind, important to have a public record which is widely distributed. It is today’s history.

  7. Dicta 2023-11-15 17:18

    If those old people demand the world cease progress to appease their fear of technology, yes. I am anti THOSE old people.

  8. grudznick 2023-11-15 17:35

    grudznick and Mr. H are in lockstep here. The Council of Research for the Legislatures is comprised of a bunch of religious zealots and anti-change luddites. Well, I guess the main religious zealot was ousted, rightfully, and run out of town on a tarred rail, but they’re still the string pullers on those insaner than most in the legislatures.

    Pull that last nugget of taxpayer subsidy for newsprint out of the maw of the newspapermen’s union.

  9. Todd Epp 2023-11-15 17:46

    Dicta: +1 for Laura Ingalls Wilder reference.

  10. Curt 2023-11-15 19:40

    “Depository”, not “repository”.

  11. sx123 2023-11-16 06:30

    Post them on tik tok; at least all the kids will see them. 100%

  12. M 2023-11-16 06:51

    I have 4 elders as clients for Homecare Services, one with a cell phone and internet access. The others rely on newspapers and the local tv channel that scrolls notices and info along with Trumpland news.

    Internet is still not accessible, nor cell phone in many dips around here. Don’t forget, the hardware to use the internet is not affordable to many and some just don’t want to transition from cable and paper print to electronic because it’s like going from horse and buggy to flying a jet.

    Fact is, I haven’t switched from Windows 10 because I don’t want to learn anything more on the computer. What time I have to myself is spent along the river or in my gardens.

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