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Citing First Amendment Concerns, Dubuque Council Does Away with Banner Policy

The Dubuque City Council narrowly avoided leaving the city open to a First Amendment violation by voting to revoke the city’s banner policy. The policy, which governs banners hung on city-owned light poles, was adopted in 2012. Three years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona that cities are not able to regulate the content of such banners. According to City Manager Mike Van Milligen, that put Dubuque’s policy on shaky legal ground. Effectively, if the city would choose to bar racist or other objectionable material from appearing on banners, it would be in violation of the First Amendment. Councilman David Resnick proposed that the current policy be revoked, saying that was a reasonable reaction to the change in law. An initial vote on Resnick’s motion failed, 4-3. City Attorney Crenna Brumwell then confirmed to Mayor Roy Buol that by leaving the policy in place, legal action could be brought against the city. A motion was made to reconsider, with a second vote to follow. Councilman Luis Del Toro, who opposed revoking the policy, said he thought there could be a way to amend the policy, rather than simply do away with it. But Councilman Ric Jones countered that dissolving the current policy doesn’t mean a new, amended policy couldn’t be developed. The council approved doing away with the current policy on a second vote, but only by a 4-3 margin. Council members Del Toro, Jake Rios, and Brett Shaw voted against.

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