Columbus City Council is scheduled to introduce legislation on Monday designed to curb aggressive panhandling.
In June of last year, the city was forced to stop enforcing its panhandling law because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that indicated such laws could not pass constitutional muster. Businesses and some people in the Short North, Franklinton, the south side and downtown report seeing more instances of aggressive panhandling after the city stopped enforcing the law. The measure in part prohibits transactions in a street or on freeway ramps, prohibits panhandlers from touching or following someone who said no, and creates a three-foot buffer zone around ATMs. Violators, including motorists, would face a fourth-degree misdemeanor. City solicitor Lara Baker-Morrish said at a public hearing last night the measure is modeled after one recently approved in Dayton.
Sponsoring Council member Mitch Brown says the legislation is designed to improve public safety, but admits its not a panacea.
But most of the ten people who spoke last night were critical, saying while the measure is a good first step, more needs to be done in the public and private sectors to raise public awareness and address the housing and economic conditions that lead to panhandling. Sara Loken is with the Community Shelter Board.
Lisa Defendiefer is with the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District.
Kathleen Gminer works downtown and says she sees only instances of respectful panhandling.
Defense attorney and former Columbus Community Relations Commission member Merisa Bowers says she works along High Street and doesn't see a problem. She opposes the measure, saying it would disproportionately impact people of color and the LGBTQ community.
Nicole Butler is a former lecturer at Ohio State University and opposes the measure.
Other speakers called on businesses to do more to educate the public and help get the homeless into diversion programs or shelters, rather than have the city deal with the issue.