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Wed, Apr 19, 2000

Door-to-door limit plan draws fire in Lorain

MORGAN LEWIS JR.

LORAIN -- A proposal to ban door-to-door soliciting after dark in Lorain is being opposed by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union which says the measure would infringe on free speech rights.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman Anne Molnar, D-at-large, was prompted by elderly residents who were alarmed by recent door-to-door solicitors from Ohio Citizen Action, according to Molnar.

'This is highly questionable,' said the Rev. Steve Behr, local ACLU branch chairman. 'It's a badly written law that prohibits free speech. You can't do that.'

Behr pointed out that those running for political office would be unfairly regulated to canvassing on the weekends because it is dark by the time many working people get home for most of the year.

The proposed ordinance was referred to ACLU attorneys yesterday, Behr said.

Ohio Citizen Action, a political watchdog group, was canvassing neighborhoods recently to raise support for a citywide ban on the potentially-toxic metal beryllium. The beryllium ban is being debated by City Council after more than a year of consideration.

Molnar, who has publicly come out against the beryllium ban, denied the solicitation ordinance was specifically intended to stop the political group.

'It's not focused on the Ohio Citizen's group,' Molnar said. 'I have spoken with seniors who were frightened by a person from that group, but the ordinance is directed at any peddler or any solicitor.'

Molnar refused to reveal the identity of the residents who she said had contacted her. Molnar said the citizens feared retaliation if they are identified.

'(The ACLU) is entitled to their opinion,' Molnar said. 'But I am the senior (citizen) on council and I do not want any retaliation against these people. Some seniors may be intimidated, but I will not be intimidated.'

The ACLU's challenge may be irrelevant as the city's Law Department was busy yesterday re-drafting the ordinance to regulate the hours for door-to-door solicitation from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The ordinance, first introduced at a regular City Council meeting Monday night, was sent to committee for further discussion.

City Law Director Mark Provenza said rulings by higher courts have endorsed the 12-hour allotment for door-to-door solicitation because it allows for freedom of speech, but prevents residents from being harassed late at night.

'Courts have ruled that the term 'sunset' is too ambiguous, so it's unconstitutional,' Provenza said. 'However, they have said you can state a certain time.'

Residents seeking additional protection can post a 'No Soliciting' sign on their door, and solicitors who ignore the sign would be subject to prosecution, Provenza said

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