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Proposed Bylaws Take Aim at Issues With Door-to-Door Solicitors

Town Meeting will consider bylaws that would require background checks for, and limit some practices of, door-to-door salespeople.

Door-to-door sales - Patch file photo
Door-to-door sales - Patch file photo
Have you had issues with pushy door-to-door salespeople in your neighborhood? There have been many entries in the Burlington Police Department logs with complaints from residents about solicitors harassing them. 

"It seems when the warm weather comes, [solicitors] is a call we get a lot in the evening hours," Burlington Chief of Police Michael Kent told Patch in an interview. "People canvassing neighborhoods and at times being overly aggressive. We've never had a law in place to police it."

Two proposed bylaws that will be in front of Town Meeting on Monday would place some restrictions on soliciting and provide more information those who are canvassing neighborhoods. 

The first bylaw is the "Door-to-Door Solicitation and Canvassing Bylaw." It has multiple components but the thrust of the bylaw is to ensure all solicitors and canvassers, and their companies or non-profit organizations, are registered with the town. 

Every person or organization intending on soliciting or canvassing door-to-door must apply for a permit with the Chief of Police at least 14 days in advance. The registration must include the name and address of the organization and its principal players, the name names and addresses of anyone who will be working in town. 

Those working in Burlington will need to carry a registration card, provided by the town, on their outermost clothing. The card must have their name, a recent photo, the name of the organization he or she represents and the dates of period of time the card is valid. 

Under the bylaw the Chief of Police can refuse to register an organization or individual whose registration has been revoked for violation of the by-law within the previous two years. The chief can also revoke or deny registration for anyone convicted of murder/manslaughter, rape, robbery, arson, burglary/breaking and entering, assault, larceny, as such persons pose a substantial degree of dangerousness to minors and other persons vulnerable to becoming victims of the violent crimes so listed. The Police Chief shall also refuse to register a person who is a sex offender required to register with the Sex Offenders Registry Board and who is finally classified as Level 2 or Level 3 Sex Offender, as such persons have been found to have a moderate to high risk of re-offense and pose a substantial degree of dangerousness to minors and other persons vulnerable to becoming victims of sex crimes, the text of the bylaw states. 

Kent said that last part offers additional protection for residents the town wasn't able to provide before. 

"We found out last year a national company had hired a soliciting company that had employees with records of burglary, larceny and assault," he said. "We didn’t have any legal right to ask them to leave. This gives us legal standing." 

The bylaw also limits the times solicitors and canvasses can go door-to-door to between 9 a.m. and 9  p.m. Originally the bylaw had the end point set at 7 p.m., preferred by Kent and Town Administrator John Petrin, but was amended to fit state case law. 

"The Massachusetts courts have ruled that 9 p.m. is a reasonable time," Petrin said of the change, adding he didn't want to see the bylaw overturned if passed on Monday because it went against state law. 

Along with the time frame, the bylaw also puts other restrictions on solicitors and canvassers. These include falsely representing themselves as working on behalf of a governmental organization or an elected official, soliciting or conducting any residence with a posted sign prohibiting it and to solicit or canvass at any residence or public place in a way that is threatening, abusive or otherwise illegal. 

The second bylaw is the "Civil Fingerprinting Bylaw." This bylaw authorized the police department to conduct state and national fingerprint criminal history checks for people applying for specific licenses in town. 

This bylaw not only applies to solicitors and canvassers but also to dealers of second-hand articles, pawn dealers, hackney drivers and ice cream truck and mobile food vendors. 

This information will work with the first bylaw when applied to solicitors and canvassers because it will allow the police chief to determine if the applicant has a prior record. 

Petrin said these rules are meant to protect the citizens of Burlington, not to impede on the rights of working people. 

"It is a difficult subject," he said. "We certainly have worthwhile folks doing these jobs and I have nothing against door-to-door salesmen, but it’s not like it was in the 1950s. People should be required to pass some tests on background. Life has changed and this is up trying to keep up without violating anyone's Constitutional rights." 

You can read the full warrant articles here

What do you think? Should Town Meeting pass the bylaws? Have you had a problem with solicitors? Let us know in the comments section below.       
Dennis Bergeron January 24, 2014 at 12:24 PM
Please pass this. Comcast knocks on my door at least every 4-6 week year round, and about every 3 weeks in the summer time. I've asked to be put on their do not knock list and made phone calls to corporate, tweeted there comcast cares account and each time I'm told that I will not be bothered anymore but it is all lies.
J. Parker January 24, 2014 at 02:44 PM
This is a no-brainer. Town Meeting should pass it.

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