published Friday, May 13th, 2011

Tennessee House votes to trim public notices

Staff and Wire Reports

NASHVILLE — Tennessee House members voted 72-19 on Thursday to cut back on the number of public foreclosure notices published in newspapers across the state.

The bill was backed by the Tennessee Bankers Association and opposed by the Tennessee Press Association, which represents newspapers.

A Senate companion bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week and awaits Senate floor action.

The main House sponsors, Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, and House Minority Leader Craig Fitz-hugh, D-Ripley, said the measure cuts from three to two the number of foreclosure notices that must be published. It also drops the requirement for a full legal description of the property.

“We just made it more concise, more specific and easier to follow,” Matlock told colleagues.

He said that would benefit homeowners. In response to a question, Matlock acknowledged the form could benefit the bank if the owners were in Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Matlock is a one-time BB&T bank board director. Fitzhugh until last month was chairman of the Bank of Ripley.

Mortgage holders must notify homeowners of foreclosures by certified mail, but bill opponents said property owners need additional protections because the state doesn’t have judicial review of foreclosures.

The ads also provide notice to the general public, although Matlock said few people show up for foreclosure sales.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, told Matlock he would vote against the bill.

“We’re told that Tennessee is one of the easiest states to foreclose in right now when it comes to notices,” Watson said. He said he represents a rural district.

“In my district, the more notices given, the more chance there would be for people to see.”

He cited a Polk County case where the owner was hospitalized and missed the letter notices that mortgage holders are required to mail.

Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer, said small newspapers in his district would be hurt by the bill.

“How much can these people actually save by doing this, as opposed to the employee that might be lost at one of these little newspapers?” he said. “It goes to the quality of life in my community.”

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