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Yard Sign Do’s and Don’ts: How to Avoid Legal Challenges to Municipal Sign Codes this Election Season

As the nation heads into the tail end of the 2020 general election, municipalities will inevitably face challenges as they seek to regulate the seasonal proliferation of yard signs on residential property. While the matter may seem trifling, a seemingly benign yet content-based sign ordinance can result in significant legal exposure for municipalities that have not heeded recent Supreme Court decisions on content neutrality. 

In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz., 576 U.S. 155 (2015), the Supreme Court of the United States held that “[g]overnment regulation of speech is content based if a law applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.” Because content-based laws are presumptively unconstitutional, sign ordinances that impose restrictions based “entirely on the communicative content of the sign” must satisfy strict scrutiny to pass muster under the First Amendment. 

As a result of Reed, municipalities with sign codes pre-dating 2015 should ensure that their current regulations satisfy the requirements of content neutrality. In short, this means that cities cannot regulate yard signs by implementing any rule, regulation, or ordinance that facially distinguishes between signs based on the topic discussed, the function or purpose of the sign, and most of all, the speaker’s viewpoint. 

In his concurring opinion in Reed, Justice Alito offered guidance to municipalities seeking to enforce content-neutral sign regulations, and examples include the following: 

  • Rules regulating the size of signs [note: such rules cannot be “under inclusive” and should apply to all signs based on content-neutral criteria (i.e., whether the sign is in a residential or commercial zoning district). Under no circumstance should size restrictions be contingent on a sign’s topic, purpose, function, or viewpoint].
  • Rules regulating the locations in which signs may be placed. These rules may distinguish between free-standing signs and those attached to buildings.
  • Rules distinguishing between lighted and unlighted signs.
  • Rules distinguishing between signs with fixed messages and electronic signs with messages that change.
  • Rules that distinguish between the placement of signs on private and public property.
  • Rules distinguishing between the placement of signs on commercial and residential property.
  • Rules distinguishing between on-premises and off-premises signs.
  • Rules restricting the total number of signs allowed per mile of roadway.
  • Rules imposing time restrictions on signs advertising a one-time event. Rules of this nature do not discriminate based on topic or subject and are akin to rules restricting the times within which oral speech or music is allowed.
  • In addition to regulating signs put up by private actors, government entities may also erect their own signs consistent with the principles that allow governmental speech. For example, they may put up all manner of signs to promote safety, as well as directional signs and signs pointing out historic sites and scenic spots.

Municipalities looking to update or enforce their existing sign codes (or to implement new regulations altogether) should consult with experienced legal counsel to understand how to maintain content-neutrality consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Reed. BMD’s Governmental Liability Practice Group has experience defending cities in First Amendment challenges and has the resources to assist your community with drafting, updating, and implementing constitutionally compliant sign codes. For more information, please contact BMD Member Robert A. Hager, Esq. or Partner Daniel J. Rudary, Esq.

 

UPDATE: Governor Dewine Signs HB 606 Granting Short Window of Immunity from COVID-19 Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Ohio General Assembly, in Am. Sub. H.B. No. 606, is in the final stages of passing a law that will prohibit lawsuits seeking damages from COVID-19. This includes injury, death, or loss to person or property if the lawsuits are based, in whole or in part, on the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of the coronavirus, unless the defendant in the lawsuit acted intentionally or recklessly. In circumstances where this immunity does not apply, H.B. 606 prohibits such claims being aggregated and brought as a class action.

Revised Department of Labor FFCRA Guidance, Effective September 16, 2020

In response to attacks on the legality of the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Final Rule regarding the Families First Coronavirus Act (“FFCRA” or the “Act”), which took effect in April 2020, the Department of Labor issued new guidance on Friday, September 11th to formally address ongoing questions and concerns related to the COVID-19 legislation.

FCC Adds $198 Million to Strengthen Telehealth for Rural Healthcare Providers

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has added an additional $198 million in funding to its Rural Health Care Program. These funds will be used to increase broadband services and telecommunications to bolster telehealth/telemedicine services for rural healthcare providers. Funding for rural healthcare providers was initially capped at $605 million in 2020, but the added funds will now allow the FCC to provide over $800 million to eligible providers.

Finding Opportunity in Adversity: Optimism for the Construction Industry

Looking for good news? If so, you are not alone. Aside from the collective mental, physical and emotional human toll imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, entire sectors of the economy have been ravaged, and old, familiar ways of doing business have been disrupted. Although deemed essential, the construction industry has not been immune to interruption and uncertainty during these unprecedented times. Amid new health and safety concerns, coupled with financial uncertainty, progress on projects has slowed, and the start dates for a number of new projects slated to begin in 2020 have been deferred. However, resilience has always been a trademark of contractors, subcontractors and other industry professionals. Reports indicate that while the construction industry lost more than one million jobs February through April, at least 600,000 of those jobs had been gained back by the end of June.

Time to Update Your HIPAA Compliance Plan for Telehealth Policies and Procedures

The delivery of healthcare in this country may be forever changed following the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing services through telehealth technologies initially allowed providers to connect with patients in a safe and socially distant manner and helped keep vital hospital beds free for COVID-19 care. Now, while still a safe, socially distant option, telehealth allows patients to access healthcare services in an efficient manner, decreases the likelihood of cancellations, and expands access to services that do not require an in-person encounter (i.e., surgery, procedure, or test). Telehealth is now widely reimbursed by both federal and commercial payors and more provider types are able to provide telehealth services within their licensed scope of practice.