Solicitation stock photo

(Source: Adobe Stock) 

Due to recent changes in solicitation laws at the federal and county level, the Ellisville City Council approved legislation on Oct. 20 to alter Section 210.187 of the city’s municipal code. 

Specifically, the new legislation (presented as Bill #3727) states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to commit any of the following acts: 

1. Solicitation in an aggressive manner in any public place. 

2. Solicitation of any occupant of a motor vehicle operating on a roadway. 

3. Obstructing any public street, public highway, public sidewalk, public right-of-way, or public place by hindering or impeding the free and uninterrupted passage of vehicles, traffic or pedestrians in the course of solicitation. 

The legislation defines that acts authorized as an exercise of a person’s constitutional right to picket, protest, or speak and acts authorized by a permit or license issued by the city of Ellisville shall not constitute unlawful activity under this section of the city code.

The revised code is applicable to both individuals and organizations soliciting, picketing or pedaling wares in a public right-of-way. 

The revision is meant to even the playing field for all types of solicitors. It comes on the heels of several recent national, state and local court cases in which courts determined that the plaintiffs were specifically targeted for their solicitation actions as indicated by the countless notices they received.

“This (Bill #3727), quite simply, is cleaning up our current code to comply with a federal ruling of late,” City Attorney George Restovich explained.  “We kind of took the St. Louis County’s adaptation of this to comply with the federal ruling. Our previous ordinances only addressed pedaling, so now this law changes that to make it uniform and not just focused on the one act; rather, any individuals or organizations. We modified ours, added a couple of definitions, and moved it from traffic to our general offenses section. We tightened it up across the board, and made it applicable to all people who are soliciting, picketing, pedaling … any of those issues that may happen on a right-of-way.”

Restovich further explained that to comply with the federal ruling the new legislation would apply to soliciting in any public place.

Mayor Mike Roemerman pointed out how the legislation is intended to protect the city. 

“I would like to add that, at the Metro Mayors’ Meeting last week, one of the mayors had mentioned that their city was being sued because they had given a certain individual, who was panhandling in the right-of-way, summons after summons after summons,” Roemerman said. “I think they ticketed him about 14 times. He got an attorney, sued them and now they’re going to pay him in the neighborhood of a couple hundred, thousand dollars.”

While the legislation is designed to protect the city, it also protects the rights of those who are soliciting as long as they are not aggressive in doing so, as Roemerman explained. 

“By doing this, the unintended consequence of putting an ordinance to limit this (is that) it has to apply to all people equally, which includes nonprofits that are standing out there – Old Newsboys Day, the fire department asking for donations. What this also allows is if it’s in front of Schnucks or a place like that (such as Girl Scout cookie sales or Salvation Army bell ringers), if the property owner gives permission, that can happen as long as it’s not an aggressive solicitation,” Roemerman said. “So, this is protecting us in addition to being consistent with the federal and county cases involved that have led up to it.”

Police Chief Steve Lewis added, “Just so you know, the reason this came about is we had an aggressive solicitor in our town that was approaching cars. I became aware, through my law enforcement contacts, of the recent ruling (described by Roemerman) and contacted Mr. Restovich. We agreed we had no ability (to take action) due to that civil suit …. We had no ability to stop someone from doing that.  So, what this (legislation) does is, if someone is out there aggressively panhandling, we can actually address those actions.”

Lewis stressed that enforcement would be complaint-driven and that Ellisville Police have discretion to act “as long as we apply (the law) equally amongst all parties that are (soliciting).”

He said people who are just standing there with signs are not going to be in violation and they’re not going to be stopped per se. 

“It’s when they become aggressive and go after people where this law applies,” Lewis explained. “So, the Newsboys and all those people are not going to be impacted by this unless we get a complaint from a driver that they came up to their vehicle and aggressively contacted them for money.”

Council member Mick Cahill (District 2) wondered how the code revision would affect entities such as the Ellisville Fire Department and school car washes, since members of the latter might actually stand out in the street with signs to direct you into a car wash. 

Under the new legislation, the same rules would apply with the exception of “acts authorized by a permit or license is issued by the city of Ellisville.”

Roemerman noted that he did not know if the city had a policy for activities with permits. “But that’s something we can address in the future,” he said.