Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Attorney General: D.C. Noise Fix Would Ensure Free Speech

In drafting the proposed “Noise Control Protection Amendment Act of 2007 (Bill 17-177),” the District of Columbia Office of Attorney General (OAG) reviewed noise ordinances from Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta, Maryland and New York.

The D.C. OAG outlined its findings in a February 16, 2007 letter to Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh. It found the ideal legislative fix would ensure free speech rights and protect residents from excessive noise. The OAG suggests simply to strike the sentence added in 2004. Excerpts from the OAG letter:

“As you know, the 2004 amendment modified the definition of a noise disturbance found in Section 2799.1 of Title 20 of the DCMR to exempt non-commercial public speaking during the daytime from enforcement under the Noise Control Act. As a result, non-commercial speech during the daytime it subject to absolutely no noise limitations under District law. My office has been unable to identify any other major urban jurisdiction that has adopted a similar provision. Moreover, no such provision is necessary to ensure that a noise regulation passes constitutional muster.

Thus, if the Council were to simply remove this exemption from the definition of a noise disturbance, District residents would be entitled to protection from noise emanating from speech that is unreasonable and excessive according to the judgment of a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities in the vicinity of the noise. The standard that would apply is the same standard that applies to other types of noise disturbances...

...This approach would adequately protect the public’s dual interests in tranquility and free expression and would be constitutionally defensible. Notably, this appears to be the favored approach by most large urban jurisdictions and by the courts.”

See for yourself. Read the OAG’s complete letter posted on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A website.


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