The Seattle City Council yesterday voted 5-4 to delay voting on the yellow pages opt-out bill by a week to address concerns from business organizations. Council Members Mike O'Brien, Tim Burgess, Richard Conlin, and Nick Licata voted against the delay.
Under O'Brien's proposed legislation, there would be a city-run opt-out registry that would prohibit yellow pages publishers from delivering those big, bulky books to people on the opt-out list. The city would fine publishers up to $125 for violating the law. Publishers would also be charged a recovery fee to cover recycling costs.
Yellow pages companies have opposed O'Brien's proposal, calling it an attack on commercial free speech. They were joined today by a new group of opponents—including non-profits and the Greater Seattle Business Association—who worry that the ordinance might be too broad and unfairly penalize them for publishing business and city guides for the public. But O'Brien told the group that they would be exempt from the recovery fee and opt-out requirements because of an amendment which excuses organizations that distribute business and advertising guides to people who want them. They would however, still have to pay the $100 licencing fee required of phone book publishers and report distribution numbers to the city.
However, Council Member Sally Bagshaw requested that voting be delayed by a week to vet out certain definitions in the ordinance such as "publisher" and "display advertising," which she called overly broad. Bagshaw wasn't the only one who had a problem with the draft ordinance. Council Member Jean Godden, a former journalist, said "it was a shame we cannot avoid conflict between our desire to practice recycling and First Amendment rights."
"Today, it's the Yellow Pages," Godden continued. "Tomorrow what might be done to other media—Little Nickel, The Stranger, and maybe even The Seattle Times?"
Yellow Pages Association President Neg Norton told the council that he was disappointed that their efforts to work with the city on a clear and concise YPA-administered opt-out system had failed. Dex spokesperson Maggie Stonecipher warned that although Dex would work with the city to implement the bill, they would also explore legal action to challenge it.