Attorney General Holds Roadside Charitable Solicitations Allowed Under State Law

In a May 18 opinion, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office held that a State law (Section 21-507(a) of the Transportation Article) prohibiting a person from “stand[ing] in a roadway to solicit a ride, employment, or business” does not apply to charitable solicitations.  This opinion contradicts an earlier 2008 Attorney General opinion that indicatd charitable solicitations counted as a “business” under the law.

The opinion notes that courts may now be faced with interpreting the purpose of roadside speech to determine whether it constitutes a charitable solicitation or business:

We also recognize that the interpretation we reach here raises First Amendment concerns that a reviewing court might choose to avoid with a broader reading of the word “business.”  However, in our view, interpreting [Section] 21-507(a) to allow charitable solicitation within the roadway does not make the law clearly unconstitutional, although additional legislation may be advisable to ensure that charitable contributions, which would include panhandling, are solicited in a manner that is consistent with the public safety goals of the statute.

MACo provided input from various county attorneys to the Attorney General’s Office prior to the publication of the opinion.

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