Every public place in the city with a television set will have to display closed captioning during business hours beginning next month, or face the specter of hundreds or thousands in fines.

As advocates for the deaf cheered, and restaurant lobbyists shook their heads in frustration, Portland City Council this morning unanimously adopted an ordinance designed to ensure people with hearing problems have equal access to Portland's public TVs.

"This ordinance benefits everyone," said Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who brought the law forward. "It promotes access for everyone."

Under the new law, "any person owning or managing a public facility must activate closed captioning on any closed captioned television receiver in use in any public area during regular hours." Those facilities include not just Portland's many bars and restaurants, but also membership-oriented businesses like gyms, Fritz made clear. The same rule already exists in airports.

The law was pushed by advocates who argued, in part, that vital breaking news could be lost to deaf patrons without new rules—particularly in emergency situations—and who said some businesses are resistant to turning on captions when customers ask.

But the new ordinance also met skepticism, a central argument being that sports bars and similar venues should have the option to leave captions off if no deaf customers are present and captions might, as Commissioner Steve Novick put it, "obscure the action."

Novick even considered offering a sports-specific amendment to the ordinance, he said, before being told by the City Attorney's Office it would be discriminatory and illegal, so Novick simply supported the change, saying "this is an important step in civil rights in the city."

Businesses caught flouting the caption rule could be fined up to $500 a day. The ordinance kicks in in 30 days.