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Columbus Council Votes To Severely Restrict Panhandling

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press

Columbus once again has a panhandling ordinance that it plans on enforcing.

City Council on Monday approved a new law meant to limit aggressive panhandling, which city officials say has been on the rise since Columbus stopped enforcing its previous ordinance last year in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The new ordinance does not ban all panhandling, but does place major limits on where and how panhandling can happen. It bars:

  • 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

Council President Pro Tem Michael Stinziano told WOSU the new ordinance was borne out of public hearings, where people talked about an increase in aggressive panhandling.

Stinziano says the 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.

In a press release about the new ordinance, council member Mitchell J. Brown insisted that "this is not an attack on poverty or homelessness, but a measure to provide protections for those who give and those who receive."

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.

The new ordinace received immediate criticism from the group Yes We Can, a group of farther-left Democrats. The group unsuccessfully challenged several council and Columbus City School Board members in last fall’s election.

“Weathly developers are the real aggressive panhandlers," said Yes We Can spokesperson Madeline Stocker in a written statement.

"Our city is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis, and more and more working families are being forced onto the streets," the statement continued. "We need to double down on our commitment to ending homelessness in Columbus. That means investing in homes and jobs, not handcuffs and jail time."