Minneapolis considers IDs for door-to-door solicitors

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 11, 2012 - 7:29 AM

To protect against door-to-door swindlers, the Minneapolis City Council is expected to approve rules requiring commercial solicitors to register or display photo identification.

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An example of what a badge for solicitors looks like.

They show up at your doorstep selling security systems, collecting money for causes, hawking magazines. Distinguishing the legitimate operators from swindlers can be complicated in the world of door-to-door sales, but it might get easier in Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis City Council is expected to approve new rules this week that would require door-to-door salespeople to wear city-issued photo identification cards. The proposal is intended to help residents easily identify fly-by-night operators who scam consumers and sometimes exploit youth workers. Previously, only salespeople had to carry the license.

"They can be in our town, hit a neighborhood and be gone before we even get a complaint," said Grant Wilson, the city's head of business licensing. "So this way an exposed identification badge will be a good thing."

The broad proposal simultaneously loosens the requirements for those going door to door for political or religious causes, which have broad constitutional protections. Noncommercial solicitors will not be required to register with the city or display an ID, for example.

Under Minneapolis' rewritten door-to-door regulations, which get a final City Council vote July 20, homeowners will now be able to keep sales representatives away by posting a prominent sign that prohibits peddlers and solicitors from the property. That also won't apply to politicians and advocates.

Door-to-door activity must stop at 9 p.m. or sunset, whichever is later, per the proposal.

Council Member Gary Schiff, co-author of the proposed ordinance, said he hopes the ID requirement will help stamp out traveling magazine crews that employ youths for low wages, long hours and in extremely poor conditions. Schiff believes they won't obtain IDs, and he wants people to call 911 if they encounter a door-to-door salesman without one.

"My hope is that ... we send a strong message to the travelling magazine sales crew industry [that] you are not wanted here," Schiff said. "We do not want to see the exploitation of youth continue."

No magazine solicitors are currently registered with the city of Minneapolis, though Schiff said a youth selling magazine subscriptions showed up at his door. A spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industry was unaware of any complaints of magazine crew exploitation in Minnesota.

Schools and nonprofit organizations that involve children, such as the Girl Scouts, will be able to obtain bulk IDs to distribute if children are going door to door.

So will neighborhood kids offering to shovel driveways need to register with the city? Wilson says no. "Regulatory discretion will take care of that," Wilson said, noting that the city does not shut down lemonade stands.

'Extra credibility'

The rule changes are partly intended to align city ordinances with the U.S. Constitution.

City staffers determined there were constitutional problems with requiring solicitors -- canvassers and people who offer goods or services at a later date -- to obtain a license or pay a registration fee. New rules merely require solicitors to register, while exempting canvassers from even that requirement.

Most commercial door-to-door solicitation in Minneapolis is conducted by Comcast and Utah-based security firms, according a city registration list. Peddlers, who offer items on the spot, are rare.

Megan Herrick, a spokesman for Vivint, a home automation company based in Utah that sells door to door in Minneapolis, said they like the ID requirement. "It gives the guys extra credibility on the doorstep," Herrick said.

Minnesota Public Interest Research Group does door-to-door advocacy in Minneapolis, most recently regarding organic waste disposal and has no objections to the changes. "We understand the city's desire to have reasonable controls on some of the door-to-door activities," said Josh Winters, MPIRG executive director.

St. Paul ordinances already require commercial solicitors to display a city-issued badge with a photograph.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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