Leesburg Changes Rules for Roadside Solicitors

To comply with a recent federal court decision, the Town Council voted last week to make some changes to the way it regulates canvassers and peddlers—those seeking roadside donations— in town.

In 2013, both the Town Council and Loudoun Board of Supervisors adopted ordinances restricting the ability of canvassers, peddlers and solicitors to seek donations, either for themselves or for charitable organizations, on streets and in highway medians. But recent rulings by both the Supreme Court and the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit have ruled similar laws to be unconstitutional. Town Attorney Barbara Notar has worked with Leesburg Police Chief Gregory Brown to draft some changes to the Town Code that would bring the town’s rules in line with the law.

The changes, modeled after an ordinance put together by the Town of Christiansburg, were approved on a 5-1 vote, with Councilman Tom Dunn opposed. They include exempting from registration all legitimate charitable solicitors; and notifying the public of the right to ban solicitors from their homes or in neighborhoods where homeowners associations control private streets. Individuals cannot be banned from public streets and sidewalks. An amendment as it pertains to town parks cleans up language that makes it clear that protected speech activities are permitted in the parks, but littering and attaching pamphlets to trees or rocks is not.

Perhaps the most noticeable change is lifting the ban on roadside solicitors; however, the adopted change mandates that no pedestrian and operator of a motor vehicle may exchange or attempt to exchange any item while the motor vehicle is located in traffic or a travel lane on roadways. In that way, the ordinance restricts behavior on the conduct or action, not free speech, Notar said.

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