Miami Beach

Miami Beach may ban commercial hand-billing in busy areas

Anyone who has walked down Lincoln Road or Ocean Drive has faced the barrage people hawking restaurant menus and party promotions along the sidewalk.

The Miami Beach City Commission is looking into banning this kind of commercial solicitation along the busiest sidewalks in South Beach in the name of leaving visitors alone and reducing litter..

The city’s Land Use and Development Committee discussed the issue Wednesday and agreed to recommend new rules for approval at the City Commission’s next meeting Sept. 10.

According to a staff memo to the committee, the ban would affect the several major sections of South Beach:

• The Lincoln Road area, bound by 17th Street to the north, Lincoln Lane to the south, Alton Road to the west, and Washington Avenue to east.

• South Beach’s main commercial districts, bound by 17th Street to the north, Fifth Street to the south, Washington Avenue to the west, and Ocean Drive to the east.

• Española Way, from Collins Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue.

• Lummus Park.

Currently, the city restricts the distribution of handbills during busy periods on certain streets within the city’s art deco district.

Assistant City Manager Joe Jimenez said Thursday the incessant distribution of fliers bothers local visitors and tourists and have led to several complaints during the past year.

“We have quality-of-life issues when people are accosted on the street with commercial solicitation, especially in those area,” he said. “These are unique places in the city, and we have a special interest in protecting those.”

When Commissioner Jonah Wolfson asked on Wednesday about whether there were First Amendment issues to consider, Senior Assistant City Attorney Robert Rosenwald Jr., told the committee the rules would be crafted to avoid such problems.

“The proposed amendment is specifically designed to fit within First Amendment,” he said. “We feel the amendment will be defensible.”

Commissioner Joy Malakoff, chairwoman of the land use committee, made it clear she supports the move.

“My comment is, ‘How soon can we do it?’ ” she said.

Michael Masinter, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, said in an interview Thursday that hand-billing is traditionally a protected form of speech under the U.S. Constitution, and the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down bans on all hand-billing for the purpose of reducing litter.

But the city is proposing only to ban hand-billing for commercial purposes, while allowing it for other purposes, such as politics or religion. That could make a difference, Masinter said.

“Because it’s commercial speech, it gets a little less protection,” he said.