Back to the May-Jun 2021 issue

Can Cities Prohibit Campaign Signs and Flags?

City Regulations

Q: Do cities have the authority to prohibit campaign signs and flags?

Political signs in a yard.LMC: We have been getting this question a lot lately because there is some confusion about a state law that preempts local sign ordinances during election season. In short, city regulations must comply with both state law and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. State law (Minnesota Statutes, section 211B.045) provides a limited preemption of cities’ authority to regulate campaign signs during the election season (defined as 46 days before the state general primary until 10 days after the state general election). State law requires cities to allow the posting of noncommercial signs of any size or number during this time. However, during the rest of the year, state law permits cities to regulate the size and number of noncommercial signs.

In addition, courts have ruled that the First Amendment prohibits cities from regulating signs based on their content. Best practice suggests avoiding total bans on noncommercial lawn signs in residential areas and using caution in adopting provisions that may favor some messages over others. City ordinances can regulate the size and number of signs, but not their content.

Courts have also recognized that the display of flags can constitute expressive conduct protected under the First Amendment. If regulating flags, cities should use caution to avoid favoring some types of flags (particularly, the U.S. flag) over other flags. If one type of noncommercial flag is acceptable, any noncommercial flag should be allowed. Learn more from the LMC information memo at www.lmc.org/signs.

Answered by Research Attorney Jacob Glass: jglass@lmc.org

Employment Law

Q: It’s been a while since we’ve checked to make sure our city has all the correct employment law posters. How can we check on this?

LMC: It’s important to make sure you update required workplace posters as new laws are passed. For example, during 2020, COVID-related leave laws required special postings and notices to employees. Fortunately, there are free websites offering required federal and state employment posters. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a site that helps determine which posters you need at https://webapps.dol.gov/elaws/posters.htm. And the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry will even notify you via email when updates have been made to required posters. You can sign up for these updates at www.dli.mn.gov/about-department/workplace-posters.

Generally, the law requiring the labor law poster will indicate for whom it must be displayed. Some posters must be displayed in places available to job applicants as well as employees. Some cities, for example, post a notice on their website stating, “Applicants have rights under federal and state employment laws,” and link to various employment posters. It’s a good idea to do that in addition to placing posters in the workplace and on the city’s employee intranet.

Answered by Human Resources Director Laura Kushner: lkushner@lmc.org

Construction Risk

Q: Our city is about to build a new community center. How can we protect the building in case it is damaged during construction?

LMC: The city should make sure the new building under construction is covered by builder’s risk insurance. This is a specialized type of property insurance that protects buildings under construction from loss. Coverage is usually written on an all-risk basis and covers loss from many types of causes, including fire, storm damage, theft, and vandalism. Materials, supplies, scaffolding, and equipment are usually covered as well. Builder’s risk insurance is a no-fault coverage that protects the city, contractor, and subcontractors. The city should specify in the construction contract who is responsible for buying the builder’s risk insurance.

The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust’s (LMCIT) property coverage provides automatic builder’s risk coverage for buildings under construction, alteration, repair, or expansion, if the estimated total project cost is less than $3 million. Construction projects under this threshold do not have to be reported and scheduled for the builder’s risk coverage to apply. However, the building must be included in the schedule of property at the member’s subsequent renewal. Payment of a claim is subject to a member’s deductible. LMCIT can sometimes provide higher limits for an additional premium depending on the scope and cost of the project. If the member does not provide the builder’s risk coverage, it should require the coverage to be purchased by the contractor. Learn more from the LMC information memo at www.lmc.org/prop-guide.

Answered by Risk Management Attorney Chris Smith: csmith@lmc.org