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Columbus Once Again Considers Restricting Panhandling

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
A year after stopping enforcement of its panhandling laws, Columbus City Council is considering passing another ordinance.

A little over one year after Columbus stopped enforcing the city’s panhandling law, City Council will consider a new ordinance.

Council on Monday considers an ordinance that, if approved, would ban:

  • Panhandling-related transactions in the middle of the street and freeway ramps
  • Panhandlers from blocking a sidewalk or other public right-of-way
  • Unwanted touching of people being asked for money
  • The repeated asking of someone for money if they’ve already declined and are walking away
  • Panhandlers from approaching people using an ATM

Columbus abandoned its previous panhandling ordinance last June after civil liberty advocates used a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on free speech to successfully challenge panhandling laws in other cities.

Columbus Council President Pro Tem Michael Stinziano says the new ordinance follows a recent increase in complaints about aggressive panhandling near downtown.

“We’re not banning panhandling through this ordinance,” Stinziano says. “We are directing and giving another tool for specific behaviors that have been a concern. At our hearings, these are the activities that were identified.”

Those public meetings also included representatives from downtown businesses and advocates for the homeless. Stinziano says most of the complaints council has received are from residents and visitors, not business owners.

While the old law was in effect for nearly 20 years, it wasn't used all that much. Just 28 cases were pursued in all of 2016 and the first half of 2017.

Sintiziano says the proposed ordinance is not as broad as the previous law, which banned panhandling meant to “intimidate” people near certain areas, including ATM machines, parking meters and banks.

Police have always had the ability to charge aggressive panhandlers with other crimes, including menacing.

The new ordinance goes before Council on Monday with an emergency declaration, meaning it would take effect immediately if approved.