A Lexington ordinance that would require businesses to put unsolicited fliers and circulars on people’s door steps or face fines moved forward Tuesday.
The Urban County Council’s Planning and Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to pass the ordinance that was originally passed in October 2016. The ordinance remained in committee so changes could be made. The revised ordinance now must go to the full council for its approval.
A lawyer for the Lexington Herald-Leader said after Tuesday’s committee meeting that if the full council approves the ordinance, the newspaper is likely to sue the merged government.
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 $200 fine per violation. Slight changes approved Tuesday included tweaking the amount of the fine and making changes to the appeals process.
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The council has debated what to do with unsolicited materials for more than two years. The original debate was prompted by the delivery of a free weekly product from the Herald-Leader called Community News. Some residents complained to council members that copies were creating a hazard and blight because the newspapers were found on sidewalks and streets.
Officials with the Herald-Leader have said they have worked with their third-party carrier to stop delivery of Community News for those that request it.
John Bussian, a lawyer who represents the Herald-Leader, told the committee Tuesday that several courts have struck down similar ordinances in other cities and counties. Bussian said those courts have held that the First Amendment outweighs public safety concerns. In the past three months, there has been only one complaint about Community News.
Bussian said he represented another newspaper owned by McClatchy, which owns the Herald-Leader, that sued over the right to distribute its newspaper in a city- and county-owned airport. The airport had to pay the newspaper’s legal fees, which were $500,000, he said. That case had to do with whether the Raleigh News and Observer could place its news racks throughout the airport.
Michael Cravens, a lawyer for the city, said the city believes the ordinance does not single out newspapers and therefore does not run afoul of First Amendment laws.
“It is our opinion that this ordinance would withstand First Amendment scrutiny,” Cravens said. “We treat all unsolicited materials equally.”
Councilwoman Susan Lamb said her constituents have been successful in getting the newspaper to stop delivering the free paper that contains ads and news. Lamb also had concerns about whether the ordinance could be enforced.
Ken Armstrong, director of the code enforcement division, said he could not say if he had enough staff to enforce the ordinance. He won’t know that until and if the ordinance is passed, he said.
Councilwoman Peggy Henson, who has sponsored the ordinance, said she wished that over the past two years they could come up with a compromise that would satisfy the city’s concerns and not hurt business.
“This issue is a public safety issue,” Henson said.