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Tired of having those bagged bundles of coupons and ad circulars tossed onto your lawn? Don’t want to run afoul of newspaper companies who claim their right to free speech trumps your right to a clutter-free front yard?

A Louisiana community is trying to thread the needle by proposing a solution that could become a model for other fed-up advertising recipients across the country.

Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans, has announced the creation of a “Do Not Toss” list. “This optional list allows residents to express their preference for not having unsolicited printed matter tossed on their residential lawns,” local officials explained.

So what’s so revolutionary about this idea that others haven’t tried before? Well, adding your name to the list doesn’t mean you’ll stop receiving the advertising packets. It just means those packets won’t be tossed into your front yard anymore.

“Unsolicited printed materials may still be brought to the door of the home, placed through a mail slot, or hand delivered to a person,” the parish explained.

So if you get angry every time you see someone tossing an advertising packet onto your front lawn, just imagine your delight when the delivery person walks up and hands it to you in person instead!

The list, and the loophole, is part of a compromise worked out between parish officials and the two local newspapers, The Times-Picayune and The New Orleans Advocate, along with the publisher of the Yellow Pages – all of which deliver their publications to thousands of local households, whether they request them or not.

Most newspapers offer residents the ability to opt out of receiving their home-delivered advertising packets. But not all of them do the best job at following through on those requests. At best, it’s because they’re a little disorganized – at worst, it’s because they don’t actually want people to opt out. After all, the more packets they deliver, the higher the rates they can charge advertisers.

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The increasing prevalence of this type of “junk mail” is part of the reason coupon distribution rates have held relatively steady, even as newspaper readership has declined precipitously. When someone stops subscribing to the Sunday newspaper, the ads and coupon inserts they once received as part of their paper can be delivered directly to their home instead.

But what if someone opts out of receiving these deliveries, and they keep coming? Some communities have tried penalizing the publishers. A couple of years ago, a suburban Detroit township levied littering fines against the local paper. And the paper turned it into a free-speech case, by suing the township for violating its rights. “State and federal precedents (make) clear that newspapers cannot be termed ‘litter’,” the Detroit Free Press argued. “First Amendment protection extends equally to both requested and unrequested speech.”

The two sides eventually reached an agreement, in which the township would stop issuing littering citations if the paper improved its opt-out system. By making it a First Amendment issue, however, the case made it that much more difficult for other communities to take action against unwanted deliveries.

“For years, residents of Jefferson Parish reported frustration with finding unwanted ‘free’ newspaper circulars tossed on their front lawns and sidewalks,” parish officials said. “Families on vacation worried uncollected papers highlighted their absence to would-be burglars. Homeowners expressed concern that those bags tossed near the street risked washing away during heavy rains and clogging drains.”

But parish leaders knew they couldn’t ban the deliveries, or penalize the deliverers. So they came up with a solution that doesn’t prevent the packets from being distributed, it just addresses the most annoying method by which they’re delivered.

“While many of our residents look forward to community news and local sale advertisements, others sought a solution for what they consider unnecessary dangers on their private property,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken, the author of the ordinance. “This ‘Do Not Toss’ List finds harmony between free speech and personal preference while reducing threats to our community.”

One “threat to their community” that the parish may want to avoid, is the type of threat that a Detroit deliveryman faced late last year. Karlton Perry tossed a plastic bag full of ads and coupons onto a front porch in November, and the angry resident threw it back at him. The situation quickly escalated to the point that Perry was shot, and the resident and his son were arrested and charged with attempted murder. Both men are currently awaiting trial.

So a compromise that prevents advertising packets from being tossed onto your lawn, but allows them to be delivered directly to your door instead, may be an imperfect solution. But it sure beats gunplay.

Photo by mikecogh

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