Businesses that drop fliers and circulars on people’s lawns and driveways could face fines upwards of $200 under a proposed ordinance passed by a Lexington council committee Tuesday.
The Urban County Council Planning and Public Safety Committee voted 8 to 2 to move the ordinance to the full council during a Tuesday meeting. A final vote won’t come for several weeks.
Under the proposal, businesses and individuals would be required to deliver unsolicited material to the front door, porch or through a mail slot. Violators could face a $50 fine per violation and a $200 fine if uncontested.
The council has debated what to do with unsolicited materials for more than 18 months. The original debate was prompted by the delivery of a free weekly product from the Lexington Herald-Leader called “Community News.” Lexington residents complained to council members that the “Community News” was creating a hazard and blight because the newspapers were found on sidewalks and streets.
“It’s not just about the Herald-Leader, it’s about all unsolicited material,” said Councilwoman Peggy Henson during Tuesday’s meeting.
Other unsolicited materials, including telephone books, pizza and other restaurant fliers, have clogged city sidewalks, council members said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Rufus Friday, president and publisher of the Herald-Leader, said similar city ordinances restricting the placement of free newspapers have been struck down by the courts. Friday told the council Tuesday the newspaper wants to avoid a lawsuit.
“Now it feels like we have our backs against the wall,” Friday said.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015 made it clear that restricting distribution of a free newspaper is unconstitutional and violates First Amendment rights to free speech.
The city’s lawyers told the committee that the ordinance does not prohibit the distribution of free material; it only says where those circulars or fliers can be placed. The city’s lawyers said they don’t believe that the 2015 Supreme Court decision applies to the proposed ordinance.
“This is not about First Amendment rights. It’s about litter and public safety,” said Councilman Kevin Stinnett.
Councilwoman Angela Evans said if it’s a safety issue, requiring the placement of the material on the porch is not going to fix the problem. The fliers will still stack up if no one picks them up.
“The problem is not picking it up,” Evans said. “How does this ordinance address that?”
Henson said the fliers create other problems when they are not picked up.
“I think it’s an environmental quality issue when it’s been left on our streets and is washed into our storm drains,” Henson said.
Council members who voted against the ordinance: Bill Farmer Jr. and Susan Lamb. Those who voted to move the ordinance forward include: Henson, Stinnett, Jennifer Mossotti, Jennifer Scutchfield, Steve Kay, Shevawn Akers, Jake Gibbs, Amanda Bledsoe. Evans attended the committee meeting but is not a voting member.