Panhandling proposal heavy handed

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: October 1 2009 | 12:01 am - Updated: 30 March 2014 | 10:36 am in
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It shouldn’t be a crime to ask a stranger for a dime.

While panhandling certainly can be irritating and some panhandlers a nuisance, Cedar Rapids’ proposal to ban soliciting on city rights of way is heavy handed.

Recent concerns over how a proposed ordinance might affect local non-profit and charitable groups are a case in point.

Rather than creating exemptions for charitable organizations, City Council should scrap the whole idea of an anti-panhandling ordinance.

If the city council wants to address problem behaviors sometimes associated with panhandling, it should penalize those behaviors, not the solicitation.

City council members tabled a proposed panhandling ordinance last week after representatives of the Muscular Dystrophy Association raised concerns that it would put a halt to their annual “Fill the Boot” fundraising campaign.

Council members said they want to make sure no worthy group would be barred from soliciting donations if an anti-panhandling ordinance were passed.

Council members already had approved the first reading of an ordinance that would outlaw panhandling on the city’s right of way and ban soliciting money from anyone in a motor vehicle.

The ordinance also would forbid aggressive panhandling: persisting in requests for money after a person says no, touching them, blocking their way or loitering near banks or ATMs.

The draft ordinance states that these proposed restrictions aren’t intended to limit an individual’s constitutional rights to solicit funds, picket or protest, but to protect the public.

Police say they’ve received a number of complaints about those behaviors and that the restrictions are a matter of public safety.

“The council finds that aggressive solicitation throughout the city is disturbing and disruptive to residents and businesses, and contributes not only to diminished access to and enjoyment of public places, but also to a sense of fear, intimidation and disorder,” the ordinance states.

Other critics are irritated or offended by the fact that some panhandlers almost certainly misrepresent their need.

It’s true, there’s no easy way to know how much or little people on the corner truly need the dollar they ask you to spare.

But that’s easily dealt with by politely saying “no” and walking on by.

People who want a better idea of where their money is going can donate to a homeless shelter or free lunch program rather than hand it out on the street.

We agree that panhandlers shouldn’t intimidate or threaten pedestrians or disrupt the flow of traffic.

If City Council thinks those behaviors aren’t sufficiently addressed by existing law, that’s where the council should focus its efforts.

Leave peaceful panhandlers alone.

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