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New solicitation law ready for 2014

On Monday night, Dec. 2, the Mercer Island City Council held a second reading of a proposed ordinance to impose more restrictions on solicitors who come to the Island looking for donations or to sell goods.

The second reading (held after Reporter deadline) gave  Islanders and City Councilmembers another opportunity to check in on the proposed law.

As outlined in the draft ordinance, Islanders have reported increasing numbers of unwanted and sometimes aggressive solicitors at their front door. Many have spoken in favor of an ordinance to limit or regulate people who go door to door.

The people selling subscriptions or wanting donations seem questionable some say, making those who answer the door feel unsafe.

Others worry that a recent spike in burglaries earlier this year is related to the presence of solicitors who come from off-Island.  Mercer Island police Chief Ed Holmes and others have testified to the contrary. Burglars do not take the risk of appearing at the door of a home in order to rob it later, they said.

City officials have been hesitant to regulate solicitors. The city’s present ordinance is essentially  not enforceable. The reason? It contains provisions similar to those struck down in the City of Medina by the federal district court in Western Washington who said it limited constitutionally-protected free speech.

However, many who have spoken to the Council say that they want more restrictions on solicitors.

The new ordinance will allow solicitors to operate in the City between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.  Commercial (for-profit) solicitors must be licensed under the new law.

“If a homeowner does not want solicitors coming to the door at all, a “No Solicitors” or “No Trespassing” sign, must be posted.” said city attorney Katie Knight.

“Given constitutional requirements, the city cannot prohibit solicitors, but individuals can make personal choices if they do not wish to have solicitors contact them at home,” she said.

The ordinance as it now stands includes the statement: No solicitor shall engage or attempt to engage in the business of soliciting at any home, residence, apartment complex or business that prominently displays a “No Peddlers” or “No Solicitors” sign or any other similar sign that communicates the occupants’ desire not to be contacted by solicitors.

Police say if such signs are posted and a solicitor does contact a homeowner anyway, they can be arrested for trespassing.

A solicitor must also carry their license at all times and have it available for inspection. Not carrying a license or other violations can result in having a  license revoked. License fees have yet to be established.

The new ordinance contains several exceptions designed to keep the ability of community charitable and youth-oriented solicitations to go door to door on the Island.

The exemptions include:

1. Newspaper carriers;

2. Charitable, religious or nonprofit organizations or corporations;

3. Peddlers of fruits, vegetables, berries, eggs or any farm produce edibles raised, gathered,  produced or manufactured by such person;

4. A person who, after having been specifically requested by another to do so, calls upon that other person for the purpose of displaying goods, literature or giving information about any article, thing, product or service;

5. A person engaged in political or religious speech or solicitation; and

6. Most persons under the age of eighteen unless employed by another person or organization.

The Council debated the new ordinance at a study session on August 5 and at a regular Council meeting on Oct. 7.

A second reading of the ordinance is set for January 6, 2014.

For more, go to www.mercergov.org. Click on ‘agendas and minutes’ on the left side of the main page.

 

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