anti-panhandling ordinance

So, there’s an anti-panhandling ordinance going before the metro council this next week. I’d encourage you to call your councilperson to let them know you disapprove. Why? Here’s what the ordinance legislates:

A. It prohibits any VERBAL REQUEST for a donation within proximity to

  1. Any bus stop;
  2. Any sidewalk café;
  3. Any area within twenty-five (25) feet (in any direction) of an automatic teller machine or entrance to a bank;
  4. Any public or private school;
  5. Within ten (10) feet of a point of entry to or exit from any building open to the public, including commercial establishments; or
  6. On any private property where “No Solicitation” signs are posted.

B. It prohibits any form of panhandling in any place before dawn and after dusk.

C. It prohibits aggressive panhandling as defined in ordinance.

What are the problems with this? Well, first of all, a lot of what it legislates against are all already illegal. What is “aggressive panhandling”? According to the ordinance:

To approach or speak to a person in such a manner as would cause a reasonable person to believe that the person is being threatened with:

  1. Imminent bodily injury; or
  2. The commission of a criminal act upon the person or another person, or upon property in the person’s immediate possession;
    b. To persist in panhandling after the person solicited has given a negative response;
    c. To block, either individually or as part of a group of persons, the passage of a solicited person;
    d. To touch a solicited person without the person’s consent;

Many of these are illegal already. This is a pervasive thread with the whole issue of “safety” regarding panhandling. When was the last time you were assaulted by someone panhandling? And if you were, how would that not already be illegal and something that would merit immediate police response? Answer: it wouldn’t. This legislation has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with discrimination.

Then there’s the fact that a lot of this ordinance may not pass constitutional muster. See Smith v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 177 F.3d 954, 956 (11th Cir. 1999); Loper v. New York City Police Dept., 999 F.2d 699, 704 (2d Cir. 1993); Gresham v. City of Indianapolis, 225 F.3d 899, 904 (7th Cir. 2000), Int’l Soc’y for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672, 678 (1992), etc. Speech on public sidewalks is one of the highest forms of protected speech.

I am going to ask some hard questions, now. Does this legislation help anything? I hear a lot of crowing about people feeling “threatened” by “aggressive panhandlers”. Does this legislation make affronts to your safety “more illegal”? What’s the value in that? Is this legislation going to magically make a police officer closer to help out if you are being assaulted? No. This anti-panhandling ordinance is a seriously misguided attempt to legislate away a problem that can’t be fixed that way. And it does so by threatening to infringe on the liberties of everyone in the process.