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Baldwin Borough to change its solicitation rules

| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A convicted criminal could come to your door seeking money or distributing information on behalf of a nonprofit and now Baldwin Borough leaders say they can do nothing to stop it.

The borough's ordinance now requires members of nonprofit, religious or charitable organizations to register and obtain an identification card from Baldwin police before they knock on the front doors of homes, or ring the doorbell.

However, Baldwin's ordinance is too strict, according to a letter the borough received from the American Civil Liberties Union, claiming it violated First Amendment rights, borough solicitor Michael Lederman said.

Baldwin's ordinance, last revised in 2003, requires those looking to sell or advertise house-to-house in the borough to get a permit from borough police, borough Manager John Barrett said. The only people exempt from this are those representing political or religious groups, which are protected by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows them to canvass any area.

“It's ridiculous,” police Chief Michael Scott said.

Council members likely will act next month to begin the process of changing the borough's peddling and solicitation ordinance to allow as the current ordinance requires.

“As of now, we are saying you have to register if you are soliciting funds for a religious nonprofit or charitable purpose,” Lederman said. “Case law is very clear we cannot do that. It's violative of people's First Amendment rights.”

Like Baldwin, Brentwood's ordinance requires commercial solicitors to get a license and submit a background check, borough Manager George Zboyovsky said. The borough's ordinance exempts all nonprofits and charitable organizations from having to get a license.

Those exempt from getting a license still must follow the law, though.

“You can't have them jumping in front of people in the middle of the street,” Zboyovsky said.

Brentwood officials amended the borough's solicitation ordinance in January 2013 to allow residents to sign up for a “no solicitation” list. The ordinance also puts time restraints on when solicitors can visit a home.

At the time, borough officials raised concerns about allowing some people to solicit in the borough without receiving prior borough approval, Zboyovsky said.

Under the current policy in Baldwin, before a permit is provided to those selling goods, a criminal record check must be submitted to the police department, along with a valid drivers license, police, officials said.

To get a solicitation permit in Baldwin, a resident pays $15 a week, $50 a month or $75 for three months. A nonresident pays $10 per person per day, police officials said. Solicitors are then provided with a photo ID to wear when going door-to-door. Solicitors are allowed to go door-to-door from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Lederman said a Pittsburgh nonprofit contacted the ACLU about Baldwin's ordinance, citing concerns that they had to register more than 20 people with the borough to seek resident responses for a survey. A man associated with the nonprofit who had been arrested for burglary in Baldwin approached the police department seeking the permits, Scott said.

“I'm not going to send a burglar up to somebody's home and give them permission to do it,” he said.

Yet, the First Amendment gives them that right, Lederman said.

“They (the Supreme Court) decided the value of free speech outweighs those issues,” Lederman said.

Council members said while this might not make sense, they do not want to pay to fight it.

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