County sets rules for roadsides solicitations

Published on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 22:20 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL arussell@tylerpaper.com

County commissioners on Tuesday approved regulations for roadside solicitation in unincorporated areas after months of discussions between law enforcement and nonprofit groups.

Local law enforcement officers raised safety concerns earlier this year. The conditions for permitting roadside solicitations are expected to ensure safety for solicitors and drivers. Local nonprofits reacted negatively to initial safety concerns and possible limits to roadside solicitation. But groups have been part of the process and did not see them as problematic for their efforts.

Concerns raised by law enforcement included potential dangers of children soliciting funds for youth baseball leagues and other causes along roadsides.

State law 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.

The county regulation requires groups to apply 11 days in advance and must qualify as a charitable organization as defined by the IRS. It also limits solicitation to intersections controlled by stop signs or lights, where all lanes come to a stop. It also limits the number of solicitors to two per lane. Solicitors are required to wear brightly colored shirts or vests and must be 18 or older.

The permit allows solicitation between 9 a.m. to one hour before sunset on weekdays and one hour after sunrise to one hour before sunset on Saturdays. There will be no solicitations on Sundays, according to the policy, but commissioners said they would reconsider the provision if it interfered with any group’s fundraising efforts.

The policy also limits solicitation to two consecutive days.

Joe Barron, Chief Rabban with the Sharon Shrine Temple in Tyler, said there was early concern the court’s consideration could affect the Shriners’ annual Paper Crusade, set for May 2 to 3 and one of the group’s biggest fundraisers, paying for taking children to and from Shriner hospitals.

Barron said last month that Shriner members were involved in the policy-making process and able to voice concerns. He believed most concerns expressed by Shriner members had been addressed at the time. No representatives from local nonprofits showed up at court Tuesday to voice opposition to any of the solicitation rules.

Constable Precinct 2 Andy Dunklin, who has worked with stakeholders to craft the policy, said he believed the regulation addressed everyone’s concerns regarding a group’s ability to solicit and law enforcement worries about safety.

Dunklin said the regulation takes effect immediately. It is a Class C misdemeanor for soliciting without a permit, punishable up to a $500 fine. Approved permits must be in possession of solicitors to prove legitimacy, he said.

“We’re approaching the ordinance as an opportunity to work with qualified nonprofits and their efforts,” he said. “Regretfully, the majority of solicitors we encounter do not qualify as charitable as defined by the IRS.”

Commissioner Jeff Warr said he is glad to have the policy on the books because he saw children soliciting at intersections in the rain this weekend. He said whether there are slick roads or limited visibility because of rain, the situation posed a danger.

“The regulation addresses a real concern,” he said. “You would think adults would know better but evidently not.”