Ordinance begs for more review

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 16, 2004

City lawmakers, concerned last month by the severity of a proposed panhandling ordinance, got their first look at a revamped edition during Wednesday’s work session.

The initial ordinance prohibited begging within 100 feet of banks, check-cashing businesses, restaurants and bus stops.

The new proposal would change that distance to 25 feet, a distance more in line with other localities in Hampton Roads, said Cindy Rohlf, assistant city manager. The ordinance bans panhandling when it is done in an aggressive manner, when people are accosted or approached in public buildings or parking lots, she said.

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Despite misgivings by some council members, city officials are sticking to their recommendation that panhandling remain a Class 2 misdemeanor. The maximum penalty at that level is six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

&uot;If it (the classification) goes down any lower, you are taking the bite out of the ordinance,&uot; Rohlf said.

If the ordinance made panhandling a less severe Class 3 or Class 5 misdemeanor, officers would only have the authority to issue a summons to the suspect, Rohlf said. Leaving it as a Class 2 incident will give police the ability to make an arrest if they deem it necessary.

&uot;It will give the police department the discretion to make a judgment as to whether they just need to tell someone to move along or to arrest him,&uot; she said.

The court system will determine the most effective penalty, Rohlf said.

&uot;It’s unfair to say that anyone arrested will automatically get sent to jail,&uot; Rohlf said. &uot;We are what we are proposing is a balance of an individual’s right to panhandle and the government’s obligation to keep citizens safe.&uot;

Despite the proposed changes, Councilman Curtis Milteer still won’t back the proposed ordinance.

&uot;I have a problem with the penalty,&uot; he said. &uot;The crime does not fit the penalty.&uot;