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Regulating Solicitations in Municipalities

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Ronald D. Richards Jr.
Foster Swift Municipal Law News
June 30, 2015

Summer is finally here, the calendar says. That means different things to different people: camping, vacations, baseball games, camps for kids or warmer temperatures. It can also mean an increased occurrence of door-to-door solicitors to canvass or solicit in part of your municipality.

Some municipalities and residents welcome solicitors with open arms. But that is not always the case. Others may see them – or hear residents characterize them – as a bother. Either way, a municipality may wish to regulate solicitations for reasons such as public safety and maintaining order. Regulating solicitations is tricky business for several reasons, including the First Amendment rights that are involved. But it is possible if done carefully and right. Below are some of the conclusions the Michigan Attorney General has offered on the subject of regulating many of the aspects that soliciting commonly raises.

  • Regulating is permissible. Totally banning them is not permissible. A municipality may regulate soliciting in its boundaries. But it may not prohibit door-to-door solicitation or the distribution of handbills on behalf of a citizen organization.
  • Be careful asking about political goals and activities. A municipality should not require a citizen organization that seeks to solicit to provide information about its political goals and activities. Political goals or activities should not be evaluated when deciding on whether to allow the door-to-door soliciting.
  • Fees and bonds. A municipality should not impose a tax or fee (such as $1 per day or $15 per year) upon the activity of soliciting door-to-door by a citizen organization; nor should it require the posting of a bond as a condition of engaging in this activity.
  • Residency requirement. A municipality should not require that those who solicit be residents of that municipality.
  • Identification. A   municipality may require solicitors, such as canvassers of citizen organizations, to identify themselves in writing to municipal authorities.
  • Fingerprints. A municipality should not require solicitors going door-to-door to first be fingerprinted.

Like regulating nearly all conduct that intersects with First Amendment rights, there are important “dos” and “don’ts” in drafting ordinances which seem to change often as judges attempt to balance a solicitor’s First Amendment rights against a municipality’s rights to regulate for the public health, safety, and welfare of its residents.

Do you have questions about drafting a solicitation ordinance? Want to learn more about regulating solicitations for your municipality? Contact Attorney Ron Richards at rrichards@fosterswift.com.