City Attorney: proposed law could extend to religious, political advertising leaflets |
By Brandi Makuski
Stevens Point is one step closer to a new ordinance that prohibits scattering.
Under a new city law proposed by Councilwoman Tori Jennings, home delivery of “any advertising matter, handbills, newspapers, or similar material” would now be against the law once a property owner notifies the publisher the delivery is not welcome.
Under the proposal, each violation would result in a $100 citation against the publisher or distributor.
Materials sent via U.S. Mail are not included in the ordinance proposal, but city officials say it would cover doorknob hangers from businesses, non-subscription newspapers, and fliers from political candidates, neighborhood organizations or religious groups.
“[The proposal] does not make any distinction among different publishers or types of materials,” City Attorney Andrew Beveridge said.
The Stevens Point Public Protection Committee unanimously approved the proposed ordinance on Monday. The committee is responsible for initial approval, or denial, of all city ordinances before they are considered by the full City Council.
At the meeting, committee chair Heidi Oberstadt asked Jennings to explain the intent behind proposing the ordinance, but Jennings, who does not serve on the PPC, declined from the audience, deferring to the city attorney.
“Essentially, what this would do is create a manner by which people could contact the publishers and say, ‘I don’t want to receive this anymore,’ and it would create an obligation for the publishers to take reasonable steps to let their delivery people know,” Beveridge said of the proposal.
Beveridge told the committee that in particular, haphazard newspaper delivery has created issues for some in the city, noting he had taken a few complaints about the issue “not recently, but a couple of years ago.”
Sometimes, he said, the newspapers end up in the road and become unsightly, or become covered by snow and damage snowblowers clearing sidewalks in the winter.
“What we’d like to see is just some more care and precision put into the delivery of newspapers,” Beveridge said. “Rolling down the street and just chucking them everywhere is not acceptable…I think if they just ended up in a more reasonable spot, that would solve this issue.”
Smith St. resident Steve Laszinski, the only citizen to speak on the issue, said publishers need to take responsibility for their staff, but agreed proper location of the deliveries was the actual issue.
“If it’s not where it’s supposed to be, I think that’s the bigger issue,” he said. “That’s the crux of the problem.”
Ald. Meleesa Johnson, a member of the committee, said she was happy to see the proposal, and referenced a woman in her district who had to repair a snowblower after striking a snow-covered newspaper on the sidewalk.
“She was so glad to hear about this,” Johnson said.
But following Monday’s meeting, Wiza questioned the need for the new ordinance.
“I would hope the person it’s affecting would just call the company and deal with it that way,” Wiza said. “I would like to think we can resolve it without creating a law; I just don’t see enough people affected to necessitate a new law. But that’s up to the council to decide.”
Wiza also said enforcement of the ordinance could be difficult. Residents generally call any number of city offices when they have a complaint, he said, but under the proposed ordinance they’ll be asked to contact the publishers.
“Who tracks all of that? And what’s the burden of proof that ‘reasonable means’ have been taken?” Wiza asked. “This is a law with penalty; it’s an awful lot of hassle for an unwanted door-hanger or newspaper.”
Wiza also believes it’s not clear what problem the proposed ordinance addresses, given its current wording.
“I don’t fully understand what the concern is; we asked [Jennings] what she was trying to fix here — it’s really just the people she says don’t want these newspapers,” Wiza said. “I think this is going to have some unintended consequences.”
A request for comment from Jennings was not immediately returned. The only public statement Jennings has made on the issue was posted to her campaign Facebook page:
In response to constituent complaints, I have worked with the city attorney to create a “scatter ordinance” to reduce unwanted newspapers and other advertising materials tossed onto resident’s yards, porches and sidewalks. In some cases, residents have reported damage to snow blowers as well as unsightly piles of newspapers. The ordinance comes before the Public Protection Committee on October 9, 2017.
The proposed ordinance reads as follows:
24.07 Scattering Prohibited
(a) It is unlawful to deliver or cause to be delivered any advertising matter, handbills, newspapers, or similar material to any premises where the owner or occupant has informed the distributor, publisher, or person making the deliveries that he or she does not desire to receive such materials. This subsection does not apply to materials delivered via the United States Postal Service. Any publisher or distributor so notified under this section shall take reasonable means to prevent the continued delivery of the unwanted materials to the premises in question. Any subsequent delivery of the unwanted materials to said premises following such notification shall constitute prima facie evidence that the publisher or distributor has failed to take reasonable measures to prevent such unwanted delivery.
The full City Council will make a final vote on the issue at its 7 PM meeting on Oct. 16 at the courthouse, 1516 Church Street.