The Council is working on a needed change to our ordinances regulating door-to-door solicitors.
The old ordinance required a license or permit for basically everyone knocking on doors, whether they were selling a product or service, or seeking charitable donations. That opened the City to charges that we were violating First Amendment protections of free speech and Commerce Clause protections of commercial activity. Similar requirements have been struck down in other places.
The new ordinance brings us more into line with the Constitution by scrapping the requirement for "non-commercial door-to-door advocates" to get a permit or even register with the City, and making folks selling a product or service that will be delivered later get a free registration. The new ordinance regime has four distinct categories of solicitors with their own sets of rules, based on what they are knocking on doors for:
- Non-commercial door-to-door advocates. These are canvassers for political or social causes, including candidates and their volunteers or staff, nonprofit organizations, and religious groups. They don't need to register or get a permit.
- Solicitors. These are folks who are soliciting orders for goods or services to be delivered later. They don't have to get a permit, but they do have to register with the City.
- Peddlers. These are people knocking on doors with actual physical products to sell, or offering to provide a service immediately. They need a permit.
- Transient Merchants. These folks don't knock on doors, but set up shop for a temporary time to sell goods that they physically have or services to be provided immediately. They need a permit.
The new ordinance contains new restrictions on both. As originally written, it would have limited soliciting to between the hours of 8am-8pm, and made it illegal to knock on a door with a "no soliciting" sign. Problematically, from my perspective, these new restrictions applied to the "non-commercial door-to-door advocates."
I did not think that was appropriate. In my campaigns for City Council, I have knocked on doors later than 8pm (in the University of MN dorms, for instance), and I have certainly knocked on doors with "no soliciting" signs. I find that more than nine times out of ten, folks who have indicated that they don't want to be solicited appreciate the chance to talk to a candidate for public office.
So at yesterday's Regulatory, Energy and Environment meeting I moved two amendments. The first changed the required end time for soliciting to sunset or 9pm, whichever is later. The second exempted non-commercial door-to-door advocates from the restriction on knocking on doors with "no soliciting" signs. Quite frankly, I think we could do without a legal restriction on people knocking on doors with "no soliciting" signs, but I put forward what I knew I could get passed.
I will be supporting this at the full Council, given these amendments. I think it is a step mostly in the right direction.