By ADAM RUSSELL, firstname.lastname@example.org
Smith County Commissioners today set a public hearing for 9 a.m. on February 27 to discuss permitting roadside solicitations after non-profit groups expressed concern about clarifying regulation of them.
The court will consider limitations on permitting groups holding roadside fundraisers, such as age of participants, during the hearing.
Flint-Gresham Fire Assistant Chief Keith Tate said he talked to a couple of the 11 Smith County Volunteer Fire Department chiefs to get an idea about concerns of limiting participants to 18 years old, which has been a concern for public safety officials. He said the initial response has been that limiting participants to 18 years and older would be acceptable. He said he would discuss it and other limitations with the entire Emergency Service Districts’ departments before the February meeting.
Smith County Precinct 2 Constable Andy Dunklin said the major concern has been safety and that he believes setting up standardized rules will help groups and law enforcement address those concerns.
There were incident reported by law enforcement regarding children soliciting funds for youth baseball leagues and other causes. Law enforcement officials expressed major concerns about having children so close to vehicle traffic.
Solicitation of funds on roadways falls under Texas Transportation Code 552.007.
The code requires the solicitor to obtain a permit from the local authority (county commissioner's court or city council) if in an incorporated area. The statute then states the solicitor must be a charitable, nonprofit organization and must produce a $1 million liability policy.
Dunklin said his deputies issued 10 citations to members of the New Life Christian Church of Dallas during the past several months for soliciting in the roadway of major thoroughfares. Tyler Police Department has written 15 citations in the past two years for solicitation at intersections without a permit.
Charitable organizations and fire departments were concerned recently after it was brought to their attention they would need permits. There was no policy in place to regulate solicitation within unincorporated areas of Smith County.
Joe Barron, Chief Rabban with the Sharon Shrine Temple in Tyler, said the Shriners' annual Paper Crusade, which was to be held May 2 and 3, is one of the biggest fundraisers for the group, which pays for transporting children to and from Shriner hospitals. He said the hearing and discussions should straighten up any confusion for non-profits.
Barron said he expects all stake holders will come to agreement on the terms of the solicitation policy.
“We’ve got to have this,” Barron said. “It pays for gasoline to provide transportation for these kids. Without (the money) we can’t provide the service.”
Commissioners want to receive public input at the hearing and address the issue by approving uniform rules of solicitation at intersections based on public comment and recommendations by public safety officials.
“We appreciate all that these groups do in our community,” County Judge Joel Baker. “It will just take some discussion to come to a solution that addresses everyone’s concerns and I think we can do that.”