Council committee approves new antibegging ordinance

Share this:
May 24, 2004 // UPDATED 1:44 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie and Robyn Repya
Sarah McKenzie and Robyn Repya

A City Council committee approved a revised antibegging ordinance May 19 that would outlaw "aggressive solicitation" in public places.

The Minneapolis City Attorney's Office redrafted the ordinance after Hennepin County District Judge Beryl Nord ruled March 30 that it violated First Amendment rights.

The ruling threw out a begging charge against a homeless man who was ticketed while standing near the intersection of Hennepin and Lyndale avenues asking motorists for money.

The ordinance, which will go before the City Council on Friday, May 28, defines "aggressive solicitation" as a plea for money that is "disturbing and disruptive" and may include "approaching or following" pedestrians.

It specifically bars panhandlers from soliciting in these public places: restrooms, bus or light-rail transit shelters, crosswalks, public transportation vehicles, sidewalk cafes, parked cars, waiting lines or near ATM machines.

The antibegging ordinance does not apply to people who "passively" stand or sit with a sign requesting money, or to musicians requesting donations.

Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), Downtown business leaders and other residents spoke in favor of the antibegging ordinance at the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee hearing, saying aggressive panhandlers erode the city's quality of life.

They testified about intimidating tactics used by panhandlers on the streets and in bars and restaurants.

Downtown Council President Sam Grabarski said aggressive panhandlers routinely approach him. He said the problem fuels a perception that Downtown is an unsafe place.

Jim Graves, the developer of Block E's Le Meridian hotel, 601 1st Ave. N., said the hotel lost a corporate account after a guest was assaulted Downtown.

Nicollet Mall restaurateurs testified about problems with pushy panhandlers. They said they've had beggars pull up chairs to patron's tables and begin eating off of their plates.

Goodman said she supports the aggressive solicitation ordinance, saying it's more tightly written than the begging ordinance and can increase penalties for violators.

She said she'd like to see more offenders referred to Restorative Justice programs, where they perform community service. For many low-level misdemeanor offenders, there are revolving doors at jail, and the city is charged $250 each time the county books an offender.

Tom Chase, general manager of the Minneapolis Marriott in the City Center, 30 S. 7th St., said a doorman who has worked at the hotel for decades has been increasingly concerned about the aggressive solicitation and verbal abuse he sees on the streets by panhandlers day after day.

Chase said the other day, the doorman watched an aggressive panhandler approach a man in a wheelchair, ask him for money and spin his chair in the middle of 7th Street when he refused.

"I'm certainly in favor of supporting this type of ordinance that makes this city what it used to be -- a safe place to visit," Chase said.

Civil libertarians have criticized tougher begging ordinances, saying they may still run afoul of free speech protections, and there are laws on the books if the request gets out of hand.