Days may be numbered here for aggressive panhandlers and for those with signs and hard-luck messages asking motorists for money.
On Monday, Interim Police Chief Steve O’Konek will ask the City Council’s Public Safety Committee to consider a new city ordinance that would ban certain attempts at “aggressive solicitation” in the city, including requests for cash from motorists and at intersections and on-and-off ramps.
Committee approval would send the measure on for consideration by the full council, which tabled a similar ordinance three years ago because it did not include exceptions for “worthy causes.”
On Friday, O’Konek said he is asking the City Council to revisit the matter in response to citizen complaints.
“We’ve been hearing complaints from the public about people who are panhandling or approaching people at ATMs or outside of businesses and hassling them all the way to their cars,” the chief said. “… It literally makes people feel uncomfortable.”
A person opening a wallet to give money to a panhandler can end up being a robbery victim, O’Konek said.
The chief said the proposed new ordinance borrows heavily from the ordinance that the City Council passed in the first of three readings before tabling it back in 2009.
The city also has reviewed anti-panhandling ordinances from eight to 10 other similar-sized cities, in particular, to see how those ordinances address worthy solicitations. One such annual event in Cedar Rapids is the “Fill-the-Boot” campaign conducted at city intersections by Cedar Rapids firefighters for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The new proposed Cedar Rapids ordinance limiting solicitations would make it illegal to solicit money at or near banks and automated teller machines and on public transportation and at bus stops or in bus terminals.
The proposed law also prohibits asking for money in an “aggressive” manner, which is defined as conduct likely to cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety. Under the proposed ordinance, such aggressive behavior can include touching, impeding or following a person or standing within five feet of a person who has declined a request for money.
Solicitations also could not be made to someone operating a motor vehicle in traffic on a public street or from a road median, road shoulder, intersection controlled by traffic signals or a highway on-ramp or off-ramp. Solicitations also would be banned on private property if the owner, tenant or lawful occupant has asked the person not to solicit or has posted a sign stating that solicitations are not welcome.
Violators of the aggressive solicitation ordinance would be guilty of a misdemeanor.
The change in the proposed ordinance from the 2009 version provides exceptions for charities, church groups, students soliciting for school programs, nationally recognized youth organizations such as the YMCA and others approved by the City Council.
City Council member Kris Gulick, a member of the council’s Public Safety Committee, on Friday said he also receives complaints from citizens about panhandlers, most of which center on people who hold up signs at on-and-off ramps. The 2009 version of the city ordinance needed some refinements, he said, adding that he will look to see what is new in the proposed ordinance.
“I think it’s a fine line. You have to watch so you don’t get some unintended consequences,” Gulick said.
The current wording of the proposed solicitation ordinance also addresses the issue of constitutional rights. According to the proposal, “the law is not intended to limit any persons from exercising their constitutional right to solicit funds, picket, protest or engage in other constitutionally protected activity. Rather, its goal is to place certain limitations on the means by which such activity occurs in order to protect public safety.”