Newspaper industry wary of unclaimed property bill


An Assembly bill — directing that the state no longer be required to take out ads in general-circulation newspapers to notify owners of unclaimed property such as abandoned bank accounts or forgotten insurance policies — is getting a wary eye from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

The bill, AB 772, was introduced this week by Assemblyman Tom Daly, a Democrat from Anaheim, and co-authored by Republican Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita’s 21st Senate District, among others.

Basically, it removes language from an existing law that mandates the state controller publish unclaimed-property notices “in a newspaper of general circulation which the Controller determines is most likely to give notice to the apparent owner of the property” — and replaces it to say that such notices would be published “in a manner that the Controller determines to be reasonable.”

That potentially shuts out newspapers – though, as Jim Ewert, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said, that has not been the case so far.

But it remains a worry, he said.

Such classified ads can be a lucrative stream of income for newspapers, which have struggled in recent years against digital competition.

“It’s not like the (controller’s) office is attempting to circumvent the law, which is what we feared, but more that they are looking for more flexibility to reach a broader audience,’’ Ewert said.

Asked if the CNPA sees the proposal as an anti-newspaper bill, Ewert said, “I think it could potentially be an anti-newspaper bill. But as with anything in the legislative process, we are going to have conversations with the controller’s office, which has been a friend of newspapers, to make sure newspapers continue to get a first look. We’re going to continue trying to get language into the bill to guarantee that.’’

In practice, Ewert said, the controller’s office has continued to publish notices of unclaimed property in 38 general-circulation newspapers statewide – The Signal is not one of them — despite that requirement being waived the last few years through specific language in the state’s annual budget process.

“They’ve done this for a number of years,’’ Ewert said. “This is an attempt for the controller, rather than go through the budget process every year, to make this the law.’’

But, Ewert said, “We are looking to add language to the bill to continue newspapers being the primary source (of published notifications).

“We have confirmed that the controller’s office has continued to place these notices in newspapers of general interest even though the requirement to do so has been suspended.’’

The language in the annual budget, he added, is exactly the same as the language in the proposed bill.

In a statement, Wilk said, “The goal of AB 772 is to notify as many Californians as possible when they have unclaimed property. Since people use Facebook and other social media outlets for all kinds of information, it only makes sense to use this to complement traditional newspaper notices for unclaimed property.’’

Wilk also said, “Last year (when he was an Assemblyman), I held unclaimed property workshops up and down my district. They were a huge success.  Folks love finding out they have something coming to them; especially money they didn’t even know about.”

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