County commissioners approve public comment period for proposed regulations

Published on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 22:08 - Written by Staff Reports

County commissioners approved a 30-day public comment period to receive input regarding proposed regulation of pedestrian solicitation along county roads.

Regulations have been proposed based on communications between the Texas Department of Public Safety, Smith County Sheriff’s Office, county constables and members of local non-profit organizations.

Local law enforcement officers raised safety concerns recently, and the proposed terms and conditions for permitting roadside solicitations are expected to ensure pedestrians and drivers are safe.

Law enforcement expressed concerns about children soliciting funds for youth baseball leagues and other causes.

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 regulations require groups to apply 11 days in advance and must qualify as a charitable organization as defined by the Internal Revenue Service. 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 and one hour after sunrise to one hour before sunset on Saturdays.

The proposal does not allow solicitation on Sundays but commissioners raised questions about the requirement among others.

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said one requirement, which gave constable offices “sole authority to grant or deny applications” for permits, should be changed. She also shared concerns about a passage, which would prevent permit holders from soliciting when pavement is wet.

“I think there needs to be some discussion about some of these requirements,” she said.

Charitable organizations and fire departments became outspoken recently and expressed concerns that regulation would inhibit fundraising efforts critical to nonprofit organizations’ operations.

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. Barron said he believes most concerns expressed by Shriner members have been addressed. He said he expects the court will make the proper adjustments to the proposed permits before approval.