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First public-notice bill is heard

The first public-notice bill to be heard in the 2017 legislative session came up Monday — on short notice, interestingly enough — in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 10 is proposed by the state Treasurer’s Office to change how unclaimed property is listed in newspapers around the state.

I testified against the bill, as did John Perdigao, comptroller at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which stands to be hardest hit by the change. Larger papers — Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City — could end up running smaller notices, while the other papers could get a larger notice. Here’s why:

The most significant difference would be elimination of the list of specific names of people who have unclaimed property within the past year, along with their last-known address. Currently, those lists are published county by county.

Instead, the Treasurer’s Office would like to publish a full-page ad in each county that would point people to the office’s web site, where you could search for a name. The treasurer, Dan Schwartz. represented at the hearing by his chief of staff, Grant Hewitt, would like more flexibility to spend money on other forms of advertising, including broadcast and social media.

According to Hewitt, the office spent $119,000 last year on notices in Nevada, of which $102,000 went the Review-Journal for a special section listing the names. He passed around a copy of the section to members of the committee, which is chaired by Sen. Tick Segerblom.  Hewitt argued that they could do a better job of informing the public by using other advertising, and they could do it several times a year — rather than the one-shot newspaper notice.

But he also noted that the office gets jammed with 75 percent of its claims when the newspaper notices appear. And that the Treasurer’s Office is holding $800 million in unclaimed property.

I told the committee that I supported some parts of the bill. “I’m in favor of more public notice, not less,” I said. “This is one of the good things the Treasurer’s Office does, and they should be doing as much as possible to get the word out.”

However, I said, there is value in the publication of the names and addresses. That’s what gets people’s attention, especially in smaller communities. I check for my name, my friends, my neighbors, relatives, people who have moved away. So I urged the committee to keep that part of the statute. I also noted that with $800 million in unclaimed property, they should have adequate funds to increase advertising without cutting the public notices.

Perdigao, testifying from Las Vegas, hit on many of the same points. He noted the R-J had been in discussions with the Treasurer’s Office on ways to amend the bill.

Segerblom said the bill won’t move forward until the Treasurer’s Office and newspapers had more time to work out a compromise.

Although I was aware of the bill and prepared to testify on it, SB10 wasn’t on the committee’s agenda when I went home on Friday. It apparently was added some time over the weekend — a reminder to me to always be checking the calendar.



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