Police to monitor road solicitors

Balto. Co. Council criminalizes highway begging, noting nuisance and safety concerns

May 22, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore County Council approved a measure last night designed to crack down on people who ask for donations from motorists stopped at traffic lights.

The bill, approved unanimously, will make it a misdemeanor to ask for money on county-owned roads without having a county permit. Violators would face a $100 criminal fine.

Under a county law passed last summer, solicitors must obtain a license from the Department of Permits and Development Management or face a civil fine of $100. Those who receive a citation could appeal to a hearing examiner, and then to the county Board of Appeals. But few citations have been handed out because there is a shortage of code enforcement officers, said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina.

Under Gardina's bill approved last night, the task of handing out citations will rest with county police officers.

People increasingly are complaining to his office about solicitors, particularly in the Towson area, said Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat. He said the begging is a nuisance and a potential safety issue because some solicitors get in the way of traffic.

A spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said that while Smith does not oppose the bill, the administration is concerned that the measure might lead officers to spend less time on more serious offenses.

"We all think it's important that people not be panhandling," said the spokesman, Donald I. Mohler. "We just get a little nervous when we put more on a police officer's plate, when we think the public would be better served with officers fighting crime."

Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman, said the Police Department worked with Gardina on the bill, adding, "We will do our best to enforce the law."

He pointed out that the law would apply only to county roads, and not state thoroughfares, such as York Road.

"If somebody's on Padonia and York, they can just move to York Road and not get arrested," Toohey said.

Toohey said lawyers for the department found that police in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties enforce laws restricting solicitation on public roads. Other Maryland counties, including Howard and Harford, have laws regulating solicitation on roads.

Under Gardina's bill, appeals would end up in District Court, much like traffic tickets.

Also last night, dozens of people rallied outside the Old Courthouse, which houses the council's chambers, to protest proposed changes to pension plans for county employees. Many wore green shirts emblazoned with AFSCME -- for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 800 county workers.

Union leaders have decried a change requiring employees with less than 30 years' service to work until age 65, instead of 60, to receive full benefits.

Council members and the administration have been working on a deal that would include less drastic changes, and Mohler said after last night's meeting that he is "optimistic" a deal will be reached by the time the council approves a budget Thursday.

Also last night, the council approved spending $9.42 million in county surplus money on renovations at Sudbrook Magnet and Deep Creek middle schools.


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