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Council to Hear Proposed Legislation to Regulate Panhandling

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott Council to Hear Proposed Legislation to Regulate PanhandlingPhoto via Flickr.
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On Wednesday, June 20 Columbus City Council will hold a public hearing to present an overview of proposed legislation to address panhandling in Columbus. It’s been a year since the Columbus Police Department stopped enforcing restrictions on panhandling. Since then, local residents have observed a steady uptick in panhandling activities and related aggressive behavior; in urban neighborhoods such as the Short North and Arena District, and also in outlying areas, typically in parking lots and at exit ramps.

According to rulings in the high courts, panhandling is free speech, and free speech is protected speech. The designation makes setting new boundaries tricky for local governments. Like any right, the right of free speech has limits, and those limits begin where someone else’s rights are infringed.

While there is no right “not to be asked for money,” there are some new measures the City will introduce formally on Wednesday. President Pro Tem Mike Stinziano confirmed that the new legislation will address issues including the following:

  • Knowingly touching or grabbing another person or their property without consent, while attempting to engage in distribution
  • Knowingly following another person while attempting to engage in distribution after receiving affirmative communication that the person is unwilling/unable to participate
  • Coming within 3 feet of an individual actively using an ATM
  • Obstructing a highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, elevator, aisle, hallway, entrance, or exit to which the public has a reasonable expectation of passage

The above preview of the proposed legislation was posted by the chair of the Far South Area Commission, Robin Watson. Her community would like to see a reduction in panhandling, but she keeps her hopes for progress in check, saying, “I am not sure the legislation, in and of itself, is going to change things.”

The new legislation will support policies already in place in central city neighborhoods. While there is no ban on panhandling, you can find statements about it on shortnorth.org and downtowncolumbus.com. Both websites urge individuals to choose to support reputable charitable organizations “rather than”/“instead of” panhandlers.

The meeting starts at 3:30 p.m. in City Hall. Citizens are invited to the meeting and may offer public testimony. There is a time limit of three minutes on comments, and interested speakers should fill out a speaker slip prior to the meeting. It will also be broadcast on the city’s public access channel, CTV.

For more information, visit columbus.gov.

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