Solicitors Law To Be Repealed

In a working session last month the Lansing town Board decided to repeal a 1966 ordinance to Regulate and License the Hawking and Peddling of Goods, Wares and Merchandise and Soliciting Orders.  But that doesn't mean solicitors will have free reign in Lansing.  Solicitors in the Town will have to adhere to a Tompkins County law that regulates solicitors and enforces the law via the Tompkins County Sheriff's office.

"My understanding was the best way to go with that is to do as (Lansing Town Clerk Debbie Munson) suggested, and steer people towards the Sheriff's Department.  This was such an antiquated law. It was designed so that if you got off at the train station you don't get harassed by all the people selling brushes.  That's how long ago it was.  What does that mean  nowadays when people go door to door to campaign?  That's one thing.  But if somebody wants to do something else that falls into what our Town Clerk has concerns about."

The Town Board has been considering a new law for over a year to replace an old ordinance that was designed for different times, when police wanted to know who was in neighborhoods, going from door to door.  Munson researched the issue, consulting with fellow town clerks and looking at solicitation laws from other towns.  Town Attorney Guy Krogh noted last year that conflicting laws make solicitation laws tricky to craft, and that exceptions to such laws can be numerous.  For example a municipality can't allow the selling of encyclopedias but prohibit the sale of comic books because governments can not discriminate based on content.  He also noted that an individual landowner's rights to exclude others from property is different from a government's rights to exclude others from private property.

Chapter 127 of Tompkins County law already handles peddling and soliciting, laying out requirements, the first of which is that solicitors must have a license before going door to door, or setting up a truck to sell goods.  It prohibits unlawful sales, requires sanitary conditions for food sales, regulates noise, prevents peddlers from obstructing public streets and places, and requires that measuring devices such as scales for measuring goods must be examined and be granted a seal by the City of Ithaca or Tompkins County sealer of weights and measures.  Peddlers and solicitors are also required to file a weekly sales report to the County Clerk, and attest to its accuracy.

No Soliciting

Door to door peddlers are not the only issue.  LaVigne said that soliciting at the front of stores has, in some cases, gotten out of hand.

"You go to a grocery store and it was wonderful that they were there in the front, but it got overwhelming," he says.  "You couldn't get into the store because you had people selling stuff all the time.  I think this is similar to that.  You want to go out for a certain function and here they are all over you.  Unfortunately the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  But in this case you don't want to have your citizens being harassed.  If somebody leaves information and you're interested you'll contact them.  But you don't want to be browbeaten."

Krogh suggested that enforcement of a Town law would be difficult because such an ordinance requires many details and exceptions.  Neither the Town nor the Village of Lansing has its own police department.  The Town does have constables, but their authority is quite limited.  Munson found that many towns do not have their own law, but defer instead to the County, which not only has a law in place, but also has the Sheriff's Office to enforce it.

"The best way to do that is to send them to the Sheriff's department," LaVigne says.  "They have far more resources than we do to insure the safety of our residents."

Peddlers and solicitors who violate the Tompkins County law may be fined up to $1,000 and/or imprisoned up to 30 days.

A new local law is required in order to repeal an old ordinance.  The Board is expected to vote on the law at this month's meeting on July 19th.