Solicitors in Reynoldsburg may need to think twice before knocking.

City Council on May 11 began considering an ordinance that would rewrite solicitor laws, expanding the duration of the permits and adding criminal penalties for those who ignore "no soliciting" signs.

The ordinance seeks to protect "the privacy of residents and minimizing fraudulent practices by persons representing themselves as peddlers, solicitors or canvassers," according to legislation presented to council.

It also would move the permitting process from the public-service department to the police department, "the way it's done in most municipalities because there are background checks that are required," said Chris Shook, city attorney.

To obtain a permit, solicitors must successfully complete an FBI background check.

Under the proposal, permit fees would be raised from $15 to $50.

Solicitors can knock on doors between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., or 30 minutes prior to sunset, whichever is earlier.

Permits were previously only valid for 14 days. The city will now let solicitors apply for permits of varying length, up to Dec. 31 of the calendar year in which they apply.

"One reason for allowing permits that have a longer duration is that we want to encourage solicitors to apply for a permit. The background check is an essential part of the process that protects our residents. Right now, there are solicitors who prefer to take the risk of getting caught without a permit rather than applying for one that only lasts 14 days," Shook said. "Another reason is that there is some case law that suggests a 14-day limit is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech; so we are, of course, taking that into account as well."

Under the new legislation, a salesperson who ignores no-soliciting signs could face criminal trespass charges, a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

Homeowners need to display a "weatherproof card, decal or sign not less than 3-inches by 4-inches in size nor more than 1-square-foot in total surface area upon or near the main entrance door to the residence or place of business, indicating such determination by the owner or occupant, containing the language 'No Soliciting per Rey. Ord. 741.02,' with letters at least 1/3-inch in height," according to the legislation.

"The intent here is to ensure that when a sign is displayed a solicitor will be able to see it before they engage in conduct designed to attract the attention of the homeowner," Shook said. "They could put it on a piece of paper and tape it to their door, as long as it meets the requirements."

The city plans to make "no soliciting" decals displaying the legal language available for $5.

Politicians and charity groups remain exempt from obtaining solicitor permits.

Residents are encouraged to report aggressive or unlicensed solicitors to the city.

"We're not registering people; we're giving them the option to put these signs on their door and exercise their right to not be solicited," Shook said. "It acts as a deterrent. These kinds of ordinances can be difficult to enforce, so we are looking for residents' help."

Last spring, the city shelved a plan to create a "do-not-knock" registry. Like a "do-not-call" registry, the legislation would have created a voluntary registry for residents and provide the list to all solicitors with valid city permits.

Whitehall, Hilliard and Prairie Township in Franklin County and Orange Township in Delaware County all maintain similar registries. Dublin provides residents with "no solicitors" stickers.

Council is expected to vote on the new solicitor ordinance in June. It would go into effect 30 days after approval.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews