Fund raising may be limited

Bill may keep minors from collecting cash along road medians

March 04, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

State lawmakers have proposed legislation that would restrict soliciting from highway medians in Anne Arundel County -- knowing the law probably will be booed by cheerleaders and could encourage beggars to declare themselves charities.

"The intent isn't to ruin the fund-raisers of the cheerleaders and marching bands," said Del. David G. Boschert, the 33rd District Republican who proposed the bill. "I don't want to be the Grinch. I'm looking at this from strictly a public safety perspective. And it isn't safe."

Ritchie Highway, the most popular stretch of road in the county for roadside solicitation, has been the site of pedestrian deaths in recent years. Although none of the fatal accidents involved a fund-raising group, Boschert said, "it's a sad state when we only react to tragedy instead of trying to prevent one from happening. ... This is a step in the right direction."

Under the proposal, homeless veterans, flower vendors -- and those who carry signs saying "Willing to work for food" -- could keep their posts near intersections as long as they have notified the Police Department of their fund-raising plan.

No minor would be allowed to collect pocket change from motorists stopped at traffic lights, meaning that fund-raisers for athletic competitions and student activities would be confined to parking lots and shopping centers. The bill does not specify a penalty for violators.

The bill, co-sponsored by Del. John R. Leopold, a District 31 Republican, is expected to be discussed at the county's delegation meeting this week.

The delegates would likely vote on the bill this month. Approval would send the bill to the House of Delegates' Commerce and Government Matters Committee. Support there would forward it to the House. A similar law was passed last year making it illegal for anyone to solicit funds from a highway median or roadside in Charles County.

The legislation was fully supported by Maryland Chiefs of Police Association. The association also backed Anne Arundel County's version -- until it was amended to allow exceptions for fund raising by adults.

`Good for all'

"What's good for one is good for all," said Cpl. James P. Capone, legislative liaison for the chiefs association, which is led by Howard County Chief Wayne Livesay. "This is a safety issue."

Anne Arundel County Chief P. Thomas Shanahan said he remained neutral on the amendments, and said he supports the bill.

"I feel strongly that no pedestrians should be in the roadway," he said.

Shanahan said that fund raising from highway dividers and along county roads causes traffic delays, especially on warm weekends, and distracts drivers.

Firefighters seek change

But, groups such as the Maryland State and District of Columbia Professional Firefighters asked the bill to be amended so that firefighters could continue their "fill the boot" campaigns for burn centers and muscular dystrophy.

Passing rubber boots at intersections is one of the most successful fund-raisers for firefighters, said the group's president, LeRoy A. Wilkison. Anne Arundel County's Fire Department raised more than $15,000 for victims of Sept. 11 by collecting change at intersections along Route 2, county fire officials have said.

"It's really the most effective means we have to solicit donations for these very important causes," Wilkison said. "The legislators expressed concern about children darting in and out of traffic. We thought it was better to deal with the specific issue rather than take a blanket approach."

Many county groups -- including volunteer firefighters, athletic leagues and PTAs -- say they forbid roadside solicitation.

"Even with orange vests on, it isn't safe," said Janet Pogar, president of the PTA groups at Glen Burnie High and Corkran Middle schools. "I can't imagine putting our kids' lives in danger for a couple of pennies."

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