CUMMING, Ga. — The Forsyth Board of Commissioners on Thursday amended an update to the county’s solicitation ordinance, which had drawn concerns in the community over First Amendment rights.
Forsyth County residents have been vocal in the last two readings, asking commissioners to make sure the ordinance would not violate anyone’s free speech or their ability to go door to door for commercial, political or religious purposes.
Commissioner Molly Cooper specifically addressed concerns that “No solicitation” signs in front of subdivisions would not apply to each home in that subdivision.
Signs can be put up on individual homes or properties, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said, but these signs may not apply to entire neighborhoods.
Distribution of literature is one of the most protected forms of speech, Jarrard said, so he wanted to ensure the ordinance would not violate the First Amendment.
“I have brushed up to the precipice, but have sort of moved away now from our ability to regulate that in a meaningful way, in an ordinance that requires individuals to be permitted with the county before they can engage in that activity,” he said.
But the ordinance as drafted states that they will require a person to obtain a permit and wear a badge on their shoulder while they solicit for distributing commercial handbills, or whoever solicits orders on behalf of a firm, corporation, company, association, partnership or individual for any goods from house to house. This does not include charitable organizations, nonprofits or students or parents participating in school-sponsored fundraisers.
Commercial handbills are essentially defined in the draft as any printed or written material, which advertises for sale of any service, product or business or contains noncommercial information, but remains predominantly an advertisement for private gain. Noncommercial handbills include those that contain exclusively political and religious speech.
However, those properties with “no solicitation” signs on individual lots will still be protected. If a no soliciting sign is posted, no handbills shall be left on the property.
“In the days of Ring and all the services that allow you to watch who is approaching your doorstep, it can be uncomfortable to watch someone come up and invade the curtilage of your home, if you will,” Jarrard said.
No solicitor or canvasser can solicit orders or distribute commercial handbills until he or she files an application with the Sheriff’s Office and obtains a permit and registers as a solicitor, according to the ordinance.
Two people spoke in the public hearing asking if this would allow members of political parties or people attempting to register to vote to go door-to-door.
Jarrard said that this type of speech is protected and does not require a permit.
Fines for violating this ordinance can reach up to $1,000.