Lamar County passes ordinance to stop street solicitation

Lamar County passes ordinance to stop street solicitation

LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - The Lamar County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance Thursday stopping street solicitation and changing the requirements for those seeking donations door to door.

"Basically, it's going to do three things," said Jody Waits, Lamar County administrator. "It's going to require a permit for someone who wants to go door to door selling things or asking for donations. It's going to regulate the hours they can do that, and it's going to prohibit any of those activities from the roadways. You can't be on the side of the road. You can't be at intersections, red lights."

Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel said he gets a complaint about that kind of solicitation almost every day.

"We've gotten a lot of complaints from the public about people approaching their cars at intersections or on the side of the road, begging for money or (with) will work for food (signs) and making them feel uncomfortable," Rigel said. "The don't know why they're there. They're knocking on their windows. I think it's well needed, and I think it's going to protect the public and community a lot better."

Rigel and Waits said the new ordinance should keep people asking for donations and drivers safer.

"It's obviously dangerous to be standing on a roadside or in an intersection," Waits said. "It's dangerous for the person doing it and the people there at the intersection because they're distracted. So it's a way to protect the citizens, both those who want to seek donations and those seek to give donations."

Rigel said, "Obstructing traffic, you have to be out in traffic obstructing it. That's not what we're talking about. It's the people that are on the side of the road with little bitty signs or a dog sitting there on the side, and you're looking at them. You're not paying attention to the traffic conditions in front of you (or) your surroundings. You're looking at them, so you are distracted. We've had a lot of wrecks, rear-end wrecks, because of incidents just like that. Especially with the growth in the county, the roads are so congested. Drivers are already distracted with cellular devices and that kind of stuff, and we're just taking away another distraction."

Groups wanting gather donations going door to door can only do so between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and needs a $25 permit.

"Anyone wishing to do solicitation door to door would go to the sheriff's office, fill out an application," Waits said. "The sheriff would vet that organization to make sure they qualify. Then they'd pay their $25 fee at the tax office (and) get their license to then do their solicitation."

Rigel said that vetting process is another way to keep residents safe.

"A lot of these people are fly by by night for lack of a better term," Rigel said. "We don't know who they are, and one of the proposals for the ordinance would be that they have to register. They have to do a background check. If they're a criminal element coming into our city that is a transient, we want to know who they are. If they're standing out on the street corner, and they're wanted for something, that's what we want to protect the citizens from."

Waits said even if a group applies for and receives a permit, the group is not allowed to be along streets.

"Even if they have a permit, they can't do that," Waits said. "The permit allows them to go door to door and ask for that."

Church groups and organizations like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will be exempt from paying for a $25 permit.

Supervisors passed it in Thursdays meeting to be sure it was in place ahead of Christmas fundraising.

"Christmas is obviously the busy season," Waits said. "It's the giving season, and people tend to want to capitalize on that. So we want to be sure proper things are in place for them to do that."

The ordinance goes into effect in 30 days. Rigel said his department will monitor how it is working through the end of the year, and bring feedback to the board in early 2017. Waits said the board can amend the ordinance as needed.