By Leah Carlson and Lolly Bowean
ANNAPOLIS – Despite objections from critics who said it would obstruct political speech, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a ban on roadside soliciting by minors.
The bill would prohibit minors from standing on roads or lane dividers to solicit rides or donations for any purpose. And it would prohibit adults, who could be charged with contributing to the delinquency of minors, from encouraging children to do so.
The House voted 83 to 42 in favor of the measure. It still needs Senate approval and the governor’s signature to become law.
Critics say the legislation could interfere with an individual’s right to voice political opinions, but supporters say it’s a safety issue.
“You have kids in the political process who carry signs for parents. With this bill, they can’t do that,” said Delegate Nathaniel Oaks, D-Baltimore City. “If it’s not broke, then don’t try to fix it.”
Such solicitations, however, are distractions that could cause accidents, said David Buck, Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman.
“People need to concentrate on driving, not on people on the side of the road soliciting,” he said.
“It’s always dangerous when you’re winding in and out of cars,” said Judy Lau, spokeswoman for sponsor Delegate Brian Moe, D-Prince George’s. “The main thing was not to invite injury.” While Lau did not have figures on roadside solicitation accidents, she did say that both pedestrian-vehicle accidents and highway soliciting are trending upward.
“There are plenty of children out collecting for a good cause, but we have to use our better judgment here. It’s a matter of putting them at risk,” said Moe, a firefighter. “The police department, fire department, rescue (officials) are all for this. They have dealt with children who have been struck by a vehicle.”
Fire companies and other community service organizations request donations along highways, but many said they don’t involve children. Some groups, like the Girl Scouts, rely on other types of fund-raisers that don’t involve roadside soliciting.
But plenty of kids are involved in roadside soliciting for their schools and extracurricular activities, Lau said.
“When the weather is good, they’re out there a lot. There are cheerleaders out there and basketball teams,” she said.
Delegate Tim Hutchins, R-Charles, a former state trooper who introduced a different bill to ban roadside requests for cash and rides, voted against the limited ban.
His own proposal is better, he said, because it would apply to everyone. And it includes language allowing local jurisdictions to enforce it, something the one approved Friday doesn’t. His proposal applies only on “controlled-access highways,” which include interstates and major expressways.
The House Commerce and Government Matters Committee heard Hutchins’ bill Wednesday, but has not voted.
School groups, community clubs, and charitable organizations that request donations from drivers could lose income if they have to exclude children or move off the road.
Capt. Donald Gibson of North Beach Fire and Rescue said the legislation will affect his company, which runs a boot drive every year, often with minors as collectors.
Unlike most groups, firefighters make their roadside fund-raisers safer by putting up cones, Gibson said.