Loudoun Co. could allow Labor Day exemption to ban on roadway solicitation

Next week, Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors will hear recommendations against relaxing its ban on roadside solicitations, and its chair will introduce a proposal for a Labor Day weekend exemption.

Loudoun County has prohibited the solicitation of contributions from drivers and passengers on county highways since 2013. Chair Phyllis Randall told WTOP on Friday she would introduce an amendment to “provide a Labor Day weekend exemption for charitable giving.”

Many labor unions hold charity drives during Labor Day weekend. For years, local firefighters have done Labor Day fundraising for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, including a Fill The Boot campaign in which drivers are encouraged to roll down their windows and drop money in a firefighter’s boot. While neighboring Fairfax County still holds the roadside charity campaign, Loudoun County firefighters have sought other avenues to raise money for MDA.

In the years after Loudoun County’s ban went into effect, other jurisdictions in Virginia have seen lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of such bans.

An agenda item from Loudoun County staff for Tuesday’s supervisors business meeting says that “any ordinance regulating the solicitation of contributions from a roadway or elsewhere” would likely be found unconstitutional by a court.

Loudoun County tweaked its ordinance in 2018 to minimize the possibility of a First Amendment challenge: While solicitation is not prohibited, the exchange of any item while a vehicle is in the travel lane of a road is, with the exceptions of law enforcement officers performing official duties and drivers exchanging information after a crash.

Loudoun County staff were directed by Randall in February to look into the case law around roadside solicitation bans. Their report, to be presented Tuesday, opposes exemptions, saying they would open the door to permitting only specific groups to solicit in roadways, clashing with free speech rights.

Randall told WTOP that an exemption for a specified period of time would likely be judged constitutional.

“Any non-profit would be able to solicit for charitable giving — if the firefighters would like to use it that weekend, they would certainly be allowed to,” said Randall.

“MDA’s spirited Fill the Boot campaign is an honored tradition in which thousands of dedicated fire fighters hit the streets or storefronts asking pedestrians, motorists, customers and other passersby to make a donation to MDA, using their collective strength to help kids and adults live longer and grow stronger,” John Myers, president of the Loudoun County firefighters’ union, said in a statement.

After two years of virtual fundraising, Fairfax County is resuming “intersection collection” for Fill the Boot Sept. 2-5, a fire department spokeswoman said.

WTOP is seeking comment from the chief of Loudoun County Combined Fire and Rescue.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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