Alternatives suggested to bill on panhandlers

Annapolis council plans public meeting after group rejects legislation

February 24, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

A bill targeting aggressive panhandling that has failed to get the endorsement of one city-appointed group will be up for its second public hearing in a week as the Annapolis city council opens the proposal to public discussion Monday night.

The 15-member Human Relations Commission, which holds hearings on issues relating to human relations, discrimination and the treatment of residents and reports to the mayor and city council, decided Monday night not to support the bill. After hearing more than an hour of public testimony, the commission said it would not endorse the bill, but suggested alternatives.

"We need to be more helpful," James Turner said to fellow commission members. "I just don't think we'll get the expected results [from the proposed law]."

The ordinance, introduced by Alderman Louise Hammond on Jan. 10, would prohibit the coercion and intimidation of people while they are walking or driving in a public right of way. Hammond said the ordinance is in response to complaints from Inner West Street business owners of aggressive panhandlers scaring customers and workers as they walk to and from establishments.

Opponents say panhandling is too complex to criminalize without offering solutions.

Commission Chairman Michael J. Keller said he will send a report to the city, voicing the commission's support for community policing, education programs for dealing with panhandlers and other alternatives.

"The issue is not, in my judgment, one of constitutionality, but rather enforceability," Keller told the commission.

Many of the concerned residents and business owners who spoke before the commission said the city needs to find alternatives to deal with panhandlers.

Larry Griffin, president of We Care and Friends, an organization that helps the homeless and substance abusers, presented a flier with tips on dealing with panhandlers to be given to business owners.

Jim Martin, a business owner and resident of West Street for more than 35 years, suggested posting signs with advice on dealing with panhandlers. Martin said panhandling is a problem for business owners, but he does not support the ordinance.

"This is something that will not be changed by only a change in the law," Martin told the commission.

Brian Cahalan, owner of 49 West Coffeehouse, Winebar and Gallery, said five or six panhandlers are known to frequent Inner West Street. He said they have been very aggressive this winter, entering restaurants and lobbies to ask for money.

"I don't personally believe this bill is going to hold up but something needs to be done," Cahalan told the commission.

Hammond said after the meeting that she is open to suggestions on improving the ordinance. The council's public hearing is at 7 p.m. Monday.

"I'm glad to see people interested in the problems we are having on West Street," she said.

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