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City council considers changes to door-to-door salesmen ordinance

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Door-to-door salesman.

Door-to-door salesman who?

Well, there are a few ways to answer that question: solicitor, peddler or transient merchant. Key differences separate the three, and the city of Powell may change how it regulates, licenses and defines them.

Two years ago, the city suspended enforcement of its law that banned all door-to-door salesmen from hawking their wares at homes around town.

Known as a Green River ordinance, the law barred anyone from knocking on a private residence to sell or take orders for any product or service without being invited to do so.

While popular with local residents, there are concerns that Green River ordinances violate the U.S. Constitution by broadly inhibiting commercial free speech, said Powell Police Chief Tim Feathers.

Under the new proposed ordinance, “there’s no blanket government action that inhibits their commercial free speech,” he said.

Drafted by City Attorney Sandra Kitchen, the proposed ordinance is based on a model by the League of Minnesota Cities.

The law also was considered “unconstitutionally vague,” so the new ordinance specifies differences between the types of salesmen, Feathers said.

A peddler is defined as someone who goes door-to-door with merchandise and delivers it immediately upon sale. By contrast, a solicitor obtains orders for merchandise or services, but delivery occurs at a later time.

A transient merchant, meanwhile, temporarily sets up a business to sell or display merchandise, but does not stay in the area for more than 90 days.

The proposed ordinance requires peddlers and transient merchants to apply for a license. Solicitors would need to register with the city, but would not be required to have a license.

As the proposed ordinance is written, non-profit organizations are not exempt. So an organization taking orders for cookies would need to register with the city as a solicitor, but wouldn’t need a license. But an organization selling apples and delivering them at the time of sale would be considered a peddler and would need a license.

Feathers noted that just as in the past, religious and political groups continue to have the right to go door-to-door to distribute information or exercise their freedom of speech. He also noted that private citizens continue to have the right to refuse solicitors, peddlers and transient merchants by posting a sign.

“You have the right to regulate your own property and you do that through posting a sign,” said Feathers.

The ordinance specifies that signs must be 4 inches long and 2 inches wide with print at least 48 points with the text “No peddlers, solicitors or transient merchants.”

“Now if you don’t have a sign, and one of these folks shows up, you can still just say, ‘I’m not interested. Get off my property,’” Feathers said. “And if they refuse to do that, it’s trespassing.”

The council will consider the proposed ordinance on first reading tonight (Tuesday) at City Hall.

1 comment

  • posted by Buddha of Suburbia

    September 10, 2011 1:19 am

    Why didn't the Green River ordinance apply to those religious hucksters?

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