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City Council members push to crack down on panhandling

Bill would prohibit asking for money near a business, parking meter

October 22, 2013|By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

Simon "Smokey" Carey, 57, said he doesn't expect to be affected by the proposal or that many panhandlers will. He said he typically panhandles around North Avenue and Charles Street and near a gas station in the Charles North neighborhood, where he worked out an arrangement with the owner, who lets him panhandle in exchange for keeping the lot free of trash.

"The ones who panhandle, they might move to a different spot, but I don't think it's going to stop it," said Carey, who also offers to clean hubcaps for $1 or $2. He said he stays with his sister in Park Heights but does not have a regular job. "Some have to do it because they're homeless, or they need something to eat."

Carey said he was friends with Joseph Blake, a panhandler killed in a hit-and-run at Howard Street and North Avenue this month. Carey said the city should crack down on people who panhandle in traffic as a safety precaution.

Blake, he said, is "up in heaven now, panhandling in a better place."

Legal scholars differ about where cities can draw the line.

Elena R. DiPietro, Baltimore's chief solicitor, advised the city to emphasize in its legislation that public safety is the primary focus and that targeting the prohibition on a narrow geographic area would put the city on sounder legal footing.

"Unfortunately, decisions across the country over the past few years have not clarified this rather murky area of First Amendment law," she wrote in a letter to council in August.

Rocah, the ACLU lawyer, said limiting solicitation for public-safety reasons has been supported by the courts, but there is no evidence a person is more likely to be a victim of a crime within certain feet of a parking meter or a business."

William Martin, a partner with the Philadelphia-based law firm Fox Rothschild, said Baltimore has the right to distinguish places where individuals can solicit as long as "they are leaving alternative means for people to exercise their First Amendment rights" and the city can demonstrate a "significant government interest."

"If an individual is required to utilize a parking meter, they don't have options to walk away," Martin said. "The ACLU always has very strong and black-and-white assessments of these situations. I think that the courts have demonstrated some subtleties in their analysis."

Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells contributed to this article.



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