A U.S. Supreme Court decision that did not at first seem related to panhandling has significantly muddied the waters when it comes to regulating such activities, City Attorney Zach Klein said.
Speaking at the June 19 meeting of Block Watch coordinators in the Northland area, Klein said people aggressively asking for spare change is a "big issue in larger cities," but the 2015 ruling in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, is forcing municipalities to come up with new, creative ways of dealing with the problem.
"In Reed v. Town of Gilbert the Supreme Court rearticulated the standard for when regulation of speech is content based," according to an article the Columbia Law Review. "This determination has already had a large impact on cases involving panhandling regulations and is likely to result in the invalidation of the majority of this nation's panhandling laws."
Ostensibly, the Arizona case dealt with a town ordinance that regulates where signs for religious services could be displayed.
"But the decision, which applies to any local rules that limit certain types of speech, has caught some cities by surprise," states a July 25, 2017, article on Governing.com.
"It's an unanticipated consequence," Joshua Cox, chief of the general counsel section for the City Attorney's Office, told the website. "You don't typically look at a graphics case and think, 'I wonder if this affects our panhandling ordinance?' "
The Governing.com article came out a little over a month after the Columbus Division of Police stopped enforcing the existing panhandling law in light of Reed v. Gilbert.
Klein told Block Watch coordinators that City Councilman Mitchell J. Brown has been holding public hearings on a proposed new ordinance to address panhandling.
"We know that it's an issue," Klein said. "We know that it needs to be addressed. We just need to make sure it's within the Constitution."
According to a June 21 story in The Columbus Dispatch, the legislation Mitchell planned to introduce at this week's council session would:
* Prohibit transactions in the middle of the street or on freeway ramps.
* Prohibit people from following someone who has told them no, or touching them.
* Forbid people from approaching someone using an ATM.
Klein, who was president of City Council before being elected to replace retiring City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., told the coordinators he enjoys his new assignment.
"I love my job," he said. "Thank you all for the support in getting there. We've been pretty aggressive on shutting down drug houses. We've been pretty aggressive on shutting down corner stores. We're going after massage parlors now as havens for human trafficking."
On April 27, Klein announced that members of his staff had used the state's nuisance-abatement law to shut down a Northland-area massage parlor that was a front for human trafficking. A restraining order granted by the Franklin County Environmental Court permitted officials to board up East Wind Massage, 6815 Flags Center Drive at the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Schrock Road near Sharon Woods Metro Park.
One of the keys to focusing on that establishment, and others like it when Division of Police undercover officers investigate these cases, according to Klein, is the presence of used condoms in trash cans behind the businesses.
"Pretty interesting for a massage parlor," he said.