City ban on neighborhood solicitors shot down

City ban on neighborhood solicitors shot down

 

Beaumont City Council won’t be stopping solicitors in your neighborhood anytime soon. 

A city ordinance banning door-to-door solicitors was proposed by City Council members Mike Getz and W.L. Pate on Tuesday, Aug. 20, but the proposal was shot down without a vote. 

Getz said he brought the measure before council due to numerous complaints from at least one neighborhood association in his Ward II. 

“They had experienced this first hand,” Getz told the council. “They are uncomfortable with it, and they’ve asked us to try to develop a tool to try and give them a little bit more peace of mind.” 

At-Large Councilman W.L. Pate said the ordinance would help keep criminals out of neighborhoods where they don’t belong and enlisted the help of BPD’s Chief Jimmy Singletary in vetting the viability of the ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting. 

“We have had people knocking on doors trying to impersonate solicitors to see inside somebody’s home. There are other ways too, but that’s actually been a ploy that some of the burglars and home invaders have used,” Chief Singletary said. “But to say that all of them are doing that? No.” 

The ordinance would not come close to passing “constitutional muster,” according to City Attorney Tyrone Cooper, who blasted the proposal. 

“The Supreme Court has identified door-to-door solicitation as a constitutional right,” Cooper said. 

What’s more, even if Beaumont were to propose and pass an ordinance, Cooper said the bureaucracy needed to sustain the permitting, licensing and fees associated with a lawful no-soliciting ordinance would be a “headache” for either the police department or code enforcement. 

“There is some ambiguity to this ordinance that the courts will wipe out right off the top,” Cooper said. “And we’ve experienced this with protracted litigation when we did the noise ordinance, and I’m not one to put myself in a position, or put you in a position, of having to endure that again.” 

The ordinance as it was written by Getz would ban soliciting on all national and state holidays and every Sunday. Door-to-door solicitors would also be banned 30 minutes after dusk. 

Many council members, including Ward III Councilman Audwin Samuel, poked holes in the proposed ordinance, pointing to charitable organizations such as the Boy Scouts, churches and BISD fundraisers popular throughout Beaumont. Samuel also questioned if the ordinance should apply to certain holidays. 

“Would Halloween be one of those nights?” he asked. 

In the end, Cooper said the Supreme Court has spoken and Beaumont would essentially have to prove solicitors prowling neighborhoods were actually causing crime in order to not expose the city to needless lawsuits. 

“My concern, if the council is of the mind to adopt one of these ordinances, my concern is that it will withstand constitutional attack,” Cooper said. “The courts have said that if (the city) has an ordinance, it’s not going to stop the criminal. It’s not going to stop the burglar. If he’s of a mind to go door to door to see who’s home, if somebody’s there, he will engage you in a conversation that is not covered by this ordinance. He will ask you directions. He’ll ask you for a glass of water. He’ll ask you if Joe Smith lives in the neighborhood. And you can’t enforce this type of ordinance against him, other than he looks suspicious and when the police are in the area, they can deal with him.” 

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