Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mayor, Bond strike deal on 'aggressive panhandling' ordinance

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 12:54 PM

Reed, Bond say ordinance is strong but also shows compassion
After initially butting heads over legislation aimed at curbing aggressive panhandling, Mayor Kasim Reed and Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond yesterday announced they'd found common ground.

The mayor and councilman, who have jousted in the past over such issues as selling the city jail, said they sat down together that morning to create a measure that they think will be easier to enforce.

"We drafted an ordinance that's constitutional but will also show heart and compassion," Reed said while standing alongside the councilman during a Tuesday press conference about the legislation.

The substitute ordinance, which Bond and his colleague Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms introduced in committee yesterday, would make it illegal to ask someone for money or "anything of monetary value" within 15 feet of certain locations. Among them: an ATM, parking lot pay box, pay phone, the entrance of any public or private building, city parking lots, and any city-approved "vending site." Scofflaws could be sentenced to up to any combination of 30 days of community service, up to $1,000 in fines, and up to 180 days in prison.

Should the panhandler act aggressive — say, refuse to take "no" for an answer, block the path of or follow the person they solicited, hassle a motorist after requesting a donation, use profane or threatening language, or touch the person they're soliciting — the penalties become more severe. First offenders could be required to perform up to 30 days of community service, pay a $1,000 fine, and serve no more than 90 days in jail, or a combination of the three punishments. Second and third offenses would result in the same punishments, but with a minimum 30-day and 90-day stint in jail, respectively.

The language spells out exemptions for petition drives, handing out pamphlets requesting donations or products for sale by mail, and lawful public vending.

Bond's proposal, which the Atlanta City Council approved last week but Reed vetoed, would have allowed judges to sentence aggressive panhandlers to six months in jail time and kept existing restrictions on where Atlanta Police would enforce the ordinance (specifically, downtown and the King Center), among other things.

The city's existing ordinance, which Bottoms called a "defense attorney's dream and a prosectuor's nightmare," was originally passed in 1996 and revised in 2005. City officials say police haven't enforced the law, which includes provisions requiring social workers being called to evaluate the person accused of aggressive panhandling, because it's legally complex and too burdensome, resource-wise.

Below, a look at the new proposal and the differences between Bond's original legislation, the substitute, and the existing panhandling ordinances.

Here's the substitute ordinance:

Substitute Atlanta Panhandling Ordinance, September 2012

And here's a side-by-side comparison, provided by the city, of the existing ordinance and the proposals, including the reworked proposal.

Atlanta Panhandling Ordinance Comparison

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