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Some businesses and cities could benefit from statewide mobile sales permits

Some businesses and cities could benefit from statewide mobile sales permits

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
July 13, 2010

Many businesses and small cities around Idaho could benefit from a reform of the way the state handles permits for mobile vendors, otherwise known as door-to-door salesmen.  One police official in Meridian believes that a statewide system of issuing permits would benefit smaller cities that typically don't have the extra staff to license vendors.  One business owner who employs several door-to-door salesmen feels that one permit from the state would cut down on fees, wait times, and allow his business to hire more workers.

Lt. John Overton of the Meridian Police Department says that smaller cities, lacking in resources and manpower available to larger cities, would benefit from a statewide license.  "It is a great idea especially for Idaho’s smaller communities that do not have their own city ordinance, procedures, or enforcement staffing," Overton said.

Joel Flake, a former attorney turned co-owner of Gemtek Pest Control, based in Eagle, said that the permitting process for his employees is often redundant and should be reformed.  "Each community does exactly the same thing," Flake said.  "If I didn't have to pay all the fees associated with the licenses, I'd be hiring more people because I wouldn't have to worry about large upfront costs of a larger labor force."  He said that his company, which sends salesmen all over southwestern Idaho, regularly spends $5,000 each year to license all his salesmen, some of whom decide to quit before their license is even issued.  Permits can often take weeks or months to obtain, due to waiting times required to conduct background investigations.  "It just seems like overkill," Flake said.  "At the very least, cities could use some type of full faith and credit provision which would allow salesman permits from one city to be used in other cities."

Those who wish to sell door-to-door in Idaho often have many different requirements for licensing they must meet in order to begin sales.  A person who wants to solicit in the Treasure Valley, for example, must obtain at least three different licenses if he wishes to sell in the three major cities in the region.  That requires a visit to each city hall, fees, and a waiting period of two weeks or more.  Boise charges prospective salesman $73.50 for a six-month license and $115.80 for a year-long permit.  Meridian, Boise's neighbor to the west, charges $75.00 for its permit, plus the cost of a passport photo at a local retail outlet such as Walgreen's or Rite Aid.  Eagle, another city in the valley, requires salesmen to pay $35 for its permit.   In the past 18 months, the city clerk's office in Boise has processed more than 349 door-to-door salesmen permits, licensing workers for such outlets as pest control companies, weed and lawn operations, and alarm and security sales businesses.  Meridian has issued 242 permits in that same period of time.  The city of Caldwell, which charges $50 for a 90-day permit, has issued 74 permits since January of 2009.

Of the permits issued by Meridian and Boise, all of them were run through a background check via the Idaho State Patrol (ISP).  An official from the ISP said that there is no way to tell how many salesman background investigations were completed in the past year and a half because the agency conducts so many inquiries for different types of businesses and cities.  The official did say that the cost of doing a state and federal background check is $29.95.

Not all cities license in the same way or even license at all, however.  Caldwell uses its own city police department to conduct its background checks.  Eagle also chooses not to use ISP inquiries, but city staffers refused to explain how they conduct investigations.  The cities of Coeur d'Alene, in northern Idaho, and Idaho Falls, in eastern Idaho, have no licensing requirements for door-to-door salesmen.  Clerks from those two cities told IdahoReporter.com that the issue of licensing mobile vendors simply hasn't come up in the past, so no city officials have really looked into it.

The plan to issue a statewide permit would require legislative approval and, if approved, would likely come under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Occupational Licenses, which issues work permits to a myriad of different business types, including cosmetology, contracting, and others.  Dawn Hall, an administrator with the bureau, said that state lawmakers could choose to put a statewide mobile vendor permit within the bureau's authority, but it could give it more autonomy and its own governing board.

If such a plan came before lawmakers during the next legislative session, it could face opposition from the Idaho Retailers Association, which represents companies that stand in direct competition with mobile vendors. Pam Eaton, spokesperson for the association, said that it has not taken a formal stand on the idea.  "We have not taken a position on that issue to date," said Eaton.  "That doesn’t mean we won’t, we just haven’t got around to discussing and deciding."

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