Chicago City Hall Bans Distribution of Free Newspapers

From Inside Publications, October 5, 2007
By Ronald Roenigk

Beware — reading this newspaper may make you a partner to a crime!

Bizarre as it may seem, on Feb. 7, 2007, the City Council voted 50-0 to outlaw the distribution of free newspapers, periodicals, and directories inside the city limits. Better call 311 to get the phone number for your alderman if you’d like to complain about this because using a White or Yellow Pages phone book that was delivered to your door recently may also make you a partner to a crime.

According to Title 10, Chapter 8 of the Municipal Code, as amended in February, an effort by Chicago’s city fathers to control litter has now made it unlawful to distribute free “newspapers, periodicals and directories of any kind on any public way or other public place or on the premise of private property in the city in such a manner that it is reasonably foreseeable that such distribution will cause litter.”

The legislation also outlaws leaving “unsecured bundles” of papers in both public and private property. This is precisely how many of Chicago’s community, alternative, and ethnic newspapers are currently delivered. Both Inside and Inside Lincoln Park use a mix of free home delivery with commercial and residential distribution drops of unsecured bundles of newspaper.

This leaves open the question of which newspapers could or would be considered “litter.” If a future issue of Hoy, a Spanish language newspaper owned by the Tribune Company that is delivered for free throughout much of the 1st Ward, endorses an opponent of Ald. Manny Flores (1st) for alderman in a future election, could it be considered “litter” by the incumbent? He was the lead sponsor of this legislation, along with Ald. Virginia Rugai (19th).

Inside Publications talked to several other aldermen including Ald. Vi Daley (43rd) last week after discovering this legislation, but those conversations were off the record. This week we called back to speak on the record. Ald. Daley assured Inside that the amended legislation was aimed at the litter created by the distribution of fliers, coupons, and menus — not newspapers — and that she didn’t see a need to use this law to limit Inside Publications’ distribution in the 43rd Ward.

“This has become an issue of education — letting people know that it is wrong to dump unsolicited fliers in our community,” said Ald. Flores on Tuesday. “We’re trying to avoid the scenario where there is unsupervised distribution that is open to the elements.”
Indeed, most of the seven pages in the amended law deals with regulating the distribution of fliers door-to-door… except for one pesky paragraph: Section 10-8-272 that regulates “Distribution of Newspapers, Periodicals and Directories.”

Ald. Flores says he is the source of the expanded citywide ban. He claims the expanded legislation was his response to his constituents’ complaints over litter created by the distribution of “some newspapers, phone books, menus, fliers, and coupons” in his ward. Previously hand billing had been outlawed in only a few North Side wards including the 33rd, 43rd, 44th, and 47th wards.

Chicago’s legislation was modeled after similar legislation passed in Old Westbury Village, NY, Derby County, CN, Rosewell, NM, Patterson Township, PA, and Statford, VA. The Virginia case was challenged by local campaign workers on the basis of First Amendment free speech rights and overturned. Chicago’s legislation does not regulate political material, only commercial materials, in deference to the Virginia case. “There has to be a balance between people’s [First Amendment] rights and the additional cost to the city to clean this up,” said Flores.
A close reading of this law shows that this legislation “shall apply only to commercial advertising matter.” Therefore anything that a politician, preacher, or community activist delivers to your door cannot be considered “litter.”

It appears there was little debate or advance notice city-wide of the proposed legislation before the City Council determined that it is illegal to deliver circulars that others may consider litter. One North Side circulation company that wishes to remain anonymous said they were not made aware of the new legislation until one of their clients told them of it. And until recently there seemed to be little enforcement of the law, although two distribution companies told Inside Publications that they had recently been asked to stop delivery of their clients’ menus by ward superintendents in two Northwest Side wards.

A quick walk through Lincoln Park and Lake View Tuesday found that it’s business as usual for flier distribution. Inside found fliers attached to doors and gates on many main and side streets. They were advertising Jaime’s Brothers Decorating, Ciber Technology Learning Centers, RCN, Fortune Painting Company, Calo’s Restaurant, Panino’s Pizza, Pat’s Pizza, Fancy Paws, Sinbad’s Juice Bar, P.S. Bangkok Restaurant, Mr. Handyman, Concordia Lutheran Church School, and two businesses that were really tempting fate — Duck Walk, 919 W. Belmont Ave., that had placed a menu on the door of Ald. Daley’s 43rd Ward office on Wrightwood Ave.; and People Restaurant, 1560 N. Milwaukee Ave., that was placing menus on car windows, an act that has been illegal for years.

Inside Publications has reached out to other Chicago-area publishers to alert them to the new laws regarding distribution. Inside has also contacted the ACLU, the Illinois Press Association, the Cook County Suburban Publishers Association, the Independent Free Papers of America, and the National Association of Neighborhood Independents for help. We promise to do our best to keep you, the readers of Chicago’s free neighborhood, alternative, and ethnic newspapers, from committing a crime by picking up a free newspaper.

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2 Responses

  1. Banning free speech in Amerika? I am not surprised that a City Council made up of Democrats voted to eliminate newspapers that don’t support them but I am surprised not a single alderman voted to support free speech in Amerika. Not a single lonely voice in the Chicago wilderness? Not a man willing to stand for freedom of the press. Not a wimper. 50-0 is the kind of vote we see in Zimbabwe, Cuba and Venezuela not in America at least until today.

  2. I think the ban is great! Maybe Mike Tierney doesn’t live in an area that gets littered with flyers and junk from area merchants. Personally, I get countless flyers on my fence, and front door of my house. Since the law, it has slowed, but they still occur less frequently. In the past, I used to get a weekly newspaper from “LaRaza” until I complained to the company 4 times to get them to stop the delivery. 0 times should be implied, 1 time should be sufficient. I had to email every president, editor, manager, etc. on the LaRaza website to get it to stop.

    The vote was to stop the litter, not free speech. If a newspaper distribution is dropping papers on a corner or on doorsteps, then they need to upgrade their operations, not demand free speech rights under the Constitution.

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