Wednesday, March 31, 2004

'No-knock' laws catching on

Offshoot of 'no-call' list allows residents to ward off door-to-door salespeople

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - This city will soon join a growing number of Northern Kentucky towns slamming the door on aggressive salespeople.

Covington officials are adding a "no-knock'' provision as part of a revamping of the city solicitation law. Similar to the "no call'' list for telemarketers, residents who don't want salespeople coming to their doors can put their addresses on a "no-knock" list.

So far, the cities of Erlanger, Villa Hills, Cold Spring and Alexandria have adopted "no-knock'' laws. Taylor Mill will consider a draft ordinance on April 14, and possibly vote on April 28.

On Tuesday,Covington City Commission approved a "no solicitation'' list that it will keep on file at City Hall. The change will take effect in about a week.

Residents who put their names and addresses on the list "acknowledge that they're asking that no one visit their property,'' City Solicitor Jay Fossett said. However, Covington also allows residents to exempt certain groups from the "no solicitation'' list, if they choose to do so.

"If someone wants to let the Girl Scouts come to their front door, they can,'' Fossett said.

That provision, added at the request of Covington Commissioner Craig Bohman, lists 15 possible exceptions to the "no solicitation'' list, including scouting groups, political candidates, Christmas carolers, trick-or-treaters and people affiliated with religious groups.

Two years ago, the Jehovah's Witnesses' Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York sued Stratton, Ohio, when that village of 287 required a permit for canvassers, including religious groups. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the village couldn't require a permit for canvassers, such as religious groups. Stratton's "no-knock'' list was not challenged by the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Covington's current solicitation law requires commercial peddlers, solicitors and canvassers to get a permit to go door-to-door. While the city can't require door-to-door canvassers espousing religious or political views to get a permit, it does require them to get a copy of the "no solicitation'' list from the city.

Communities also can't ban door-to-door solicitation or set hours that are too restrictive, lawyers who have researched the issue say.

"We feel the way (Covington's law) is written, it's constitutional and would survive legal challenges,'' Fossett said.

Many of the Northern Kentucky communities that have considered "no-knock'' laws have subdivisions where vanloads of salespeople often are dropped off to hawk their products. Still others say they want to protect older residents worried about strangers knocking on their doors.

Erlanger adopted a "no-knock'' law in 2002, Villa Hills approved one last fall and Cold Spring and Alexandria adopted one this month. All have fines that escalate with repeated violations, and offenders also could spend up to six months in jail for violating Covington's law. Most Northern Kentucky cities that have adopted laws regulating door-to-door solicitors also provide "no-knock'' stickers for residents to put on their front doors or windows.

"We've had one person sign up for the list, and we don't even have the 'no-knock' stickers in yet,'' said Alexandria City Clerk Karen Barto. "They're still on order.''


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