The Waxahachie City Council unanimously voted to amend its ordinance regulating door-to-door activities, replacing a previous chapter titled “Peddlers” with a new chapter titled “Solicitation Activities.”
Council members took the action at their recent meeting. The city’s regulations on solicitation activities were first adopted in 1950 and have been modified multiple times over the years.
The ordinance defines solicitation as “engaging in or attempting to engage in home solicitation transactions. This term does not include solicitation or fundraising of any sort by a political, religious or charitable institution or group, unless indicated otherwise.”
The city cited public safety issues in updating the chapter, noting serious safety issues when people solicit in or on public streets, streets rights-of-ways and other areas vehicles travel on, and how the activities could impede traffic flow.
“Based upon the United States Supreme Court jurisprudence, the city acknowledges it is limited in its ability to regulate solicitation by religious, political and charitable institutions and groups,” the ordinance reads. “It is the intent of the city council not to abridge any individuals or groups recognized first amendment rights; and whereas it is the intent of the city council to fully respect such first amendment rights in this ordinance.”
Resident Paul Christensen, a candidate in November’s council election, said the ordinance was “blatantly unconstitutional.”
“A government cannot inflict on the freedom of political speech,” he said. “It is that clear. You can’t do it. Political canvassing is not solicitation. It is not commercial speech. This is political speech. There are many supreme court cases that have covered this and they are all very clear.
“If someone has a no solicitation sign on their door, a political canvasser cannot go to that door,” Christensen said. “That is not constitutional.”
Waxahachie city attorney Robert Brown addressed Christensen’s concerns before the council took its vote.
“The ordinance does not require a permit for political speech,” Brown said. “It does have a section where if you have a no solicitation sign or a no trespassing sign that you have the right to keep anybody from coming onto your property and coming to your door. While there is a constitutional right to politic, one person’s constitutional rights end when another person’s constitutional rights begin.
“In the United States and Texas, in particular, one of the key constitutional rights is the right to own property and to exclude people from your property,” Brown said. “So, if you don’t want people coming to your door it does not matter if they are selling something, if they are Boy Scouts, if it’s someone trying to sell coupons or tickets for the football team or somebody that is trying to run for office. You have an absolute constitutional right to have a sign that says, ‘Thanks but no thanks, no trespassing or no solicitation.’ This ordinance recognizes that right. It is completely constitutional.”
Brown said his office thoroughly reviewed the changes and is “extremely confident” of the legality.
In addition to the ordinance noting it doesn’t include solicitation or fundraising by a political, religious or charitable group, it also allows for exemptions for public utility companies or other companies operating under a franchise granted by the city, insurance salespeople, real estate salespeople and those licensed by state political groups or organizations subject to financial disclosure under state and federal law.
For those to whom the ordinance does apply, a permit must be obtained through an online application form on the city website, for which a nonrefundable fee of $35 is charged. Within 10 working days, the police department will either issue a permit in the form of a badge or notify the person that they have been denied. The badge, which will feature a photo of the person, is nontransferable and remains the property of the city. It can be revoked and required to be surrendered at any time for any false or misleading information of the application permit, violation of city ordinance and or violation of state or federal law.
Soliciting can take place Monday through Saturday. Soliciting is not permitted on Sundays, New Year’s Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Questions about the amended ordinance can be directed to city staff at 469-309-4000. City Hall is located at 401 S. Rogers St. in downtown Waxahachie.