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© Copyright 2005 The Tennessean and/or The Associated Press.

Usefulness of door-to-door salesmen registry debated

KNOXVILLE Two years ago, a door-to-door magazine salesman raped and stabbed to death a Knox County grandmother, but area lawmakers were unable to persuade their colleagues to regulate the industry.

Last May, a salesman affiliated with the same company raped a mother in front of her 2-month-old son in La Vergne in Rutherford County, while in November a registered sex offender selling magazines for another business was accused of fondling a 6-year-old.

All three had criminal histories.

Sen. Tim Burchett and Rep. Steve Buttry, both Knoxville Republicans, hope those incidents will generate more support for their bill, which would require registration and background checks on door-to-door salespeople.

''It just makes sense to try to find some way to make sure that if you have people going door-to-door they are not felons,'' Buttry told The Knoxville News Sentinel. ''I do not see any problem requiring anyone coming into our state to sell door-to-door having to have a background check and to register at the state level.''

ParentWatch, a watchdog group that has been monitoring the industry for years, says that since 2000 door-to-door salespeople have been implicated in 13 cases of rape or sexual assault and four cases of murder.

''The crimes are related to the casual hiring practices of this industry generally,'' said Earlene Williams, ParentWatch executive director. ''They are all in a hurry to hire as many people as quickly as they can, so they can quickly get them on the road selling. Sometimes, as we can see from these cases in Tennessee, they bring in some very dangerous people.''

Since the national ''do not call'' list has cut millions of people off from potential sales pitches, some companies have returned to door-to-door sales, and others are contemplating it.

Civil lawsuits filed in the Knox County and La Vergne cases claim that American Community Services and other defendants were negligent in hiring criminals as door-to-door salesmen.

''It would be nice if these companies would do a better job of checking these people out before they dump them in Tennessee,'' said Wally Kirby, director of the Tennessee District Attorney Generals Conference. ''And I would be surprised if the terms of the paroles of some of the people they hire would allow them to leave their state.''

The traveling sales crew industry has successfully avoided significant regulation for decades. Only three states regulate it, and there are virtually no federal restrictions, even though it is common for crews selling magazine subscriptions or household cleaning products to travel through many states.

Burchett said it would be hard to pass legislation regulating the industry.

He said there probably would be opposition from ''legitimate and honorable'' organizations such as Mary Kay, Avon and Amway. ''But I believe a way can be found to do what we need to do without hurting them.''

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