UPDATE: The Cedar Rapids City Council’s Public Safety Committee has sent to the full council a proposed new ordinance that would outlaw “aggressive” panhandlers and those who try to collect donations at intersections, on highway ramps and in medians.
City Council member Justin Shields, the committee’s chairman, said Tuesday he supported a tougher panhandling ordinance, emphasizing, “We have to do something about it.”
Shields said the Police Department has reported an increase in reports of aggressive panhandlers in downtown Cedar Rapids, and he said he has seen more panhandlers on ramps along Interstate 380 recently.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said.
The Police Department has pushed for the new ordinance after receiving citizen complaints about “professional panhandlers,” who the department says often intimidate pedestrians and motorists. Those at intersections and highway ramps become a public safety hazard, the Police Department has said.
Council member Kris Gulick, a committee member, noted Tuesday that new Police Chief Wayne Jerman, who previously was assistant police chief in Montgomery County, Md., told the committee on Monday that the state of Maryland prohibits solicitations in the right of way of roadways.
Gulick said he hasn’t made up his mind on the city’s proposed tougher panhandling law.
Last summer, the council’s Public Safety Committee said it wanted to make sure that a tougher law wouldn’t turn “passive” requests for help, such as asking for directions to shelters and meal programs, into a crime.
The proposed ordinance defines “aggressive” panhandling, in part, as intentionally touching another person in the course of solicitation without the person’s consent or continuing to solicit within five feet of a person who has declined the solicitation.
The proposed ordinance bans solicitation in any public transportation vehicle or at a bus terminal or bus stop; within 50 feet of the entrance or exit of a bank, ATM or check cashing business; within an intersection controlled by a traffic signal or within 100 feet of such an intersection; in the median; from the shoulder of a road; and on Interstate 380 or other controlled access highways.
A person would commit a misdemeanor if he or she violates the proposed ordinance’s provisions.