Warrenton will ban streetside money collecting

Adam Rollins, Staff Writer
Posted 8/12/22

Warrenton aldermen signaled last week that they plan to prohibit anyone from collecting donations from drivers on city streets.

An ordinance to be presented to the board of aldermen as soon as …

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Warrenton will ban streetside money collecting

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Warrenton aldermen signaled last week that they plan to prohibit anyone from collecting donations from drivers on city streets.

An ordinance to be presented to the board of aldermen as soon as next week would ban the use of public roadways to solicit funding for any reason, including charitable collections. The new restriction was discussed during the board’s public meeting on Aug. 2.

Warrenton ordinance currently prohibits “soliciting alms” on city streets — in other words, asking for money that would go directly to an individual. However, the city had allowed charitable organizations to collect donations as long as they first obtained a city permit.

Those rules will need to change, said City Attorney Christpher Graville, because laws which allow some people to solicit money, but not others, are being challenged in appeals court over claims that they violate constitutional free speech protections.

The reasoning here focuses on what the courts refer to as “content-based restrictions” on speech, which are considered a violation of the First Amendment. Governments are only allowed to restrict speech for neutral purposes, such as safety; but never because the government simply dislikes the specific content of a person’s speech.

For example, Warrenton aldermen could ban people from yelling outdoors late at night in order to prevent disturbances to nearby homes. But they can’t punish people specifically for proclaiming their support for the Wright City Wildcats over the Warrenton Warriors.

In the case of soliciting money on the street corner, the “speech” is asking someone for money, and the “content-based restriction” is allowing that solicitation for charity, but not for personal use.

Graville explained that cities can choose to ban all solicitations on city streets in order to prevent the public safety hazard of pedestrians weaving in and around traffic. However, whatever rules aldermen create have to apply to everyone equally.

“You have to decide: Are we going to tell everybody ‘No,’ or are we going to tell everybody ‘Yes,’” Graville told the aldermen.

Mayor Eric Schleuter indicated that he would rather prevent anyone from being in the street collecting money. Not only is it a safety hazard to have pedestrians walking around moving vehicles, it also creates a nuisance when solicitors slow down traffic, Schleuter said.

The aldermen collectively agreed, with Alderman Steven Cullom observing that charities have many other tools for collecting donations, particularly over the internet.

Despite those statements, Schleuter did raise one concern about a potential casualty of the ordinance change:

“What about a little kid with a lemonade stand by our city street?” Schleuter asked.

Not to worry, answered Graville. The new ordinance will be written to allow anyone to collect money on the sidewalk. As long as no one steps into the street, there won’t be a violation.

Graville also added that the ordinance has no control over whether someone can solicit donations on private property. That’s entirely up to the property owner, Graville said.

Warrenton Board of Aldermen

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