Legislation under consideration by Bexley City Council would prohibit panhandlers from blocking traffic and public rights of way, grabbing people or their property, and approaching people in their cars and at ATM locations.
If approved by council, Ordinance 01-19 would amend section 648.12 of the city's code and create a new chapter, labeled Chapter 649. That portion of the legislation contains the restrictions on blocking public rights-of-way, which would be considered a third-degree misdemeanor; grabbing people or property, a first-degree misdemeanor; and approaching people in cars and at ATM sites, a third-degree misdemeanor. The legislation does not specify the penalties that would be associated with each infraction.
Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said the ordinance is modeled after similar legislation that Columbus adopted in June 2018. Columbus stopped enforcing its previous panhandling ordinance in summer 2017 because of a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on freedom of speech rights.
Columbus' 2018 ordinance treats panhandling as a safety issue, banning panhandlers from being in the right-of-way, sidewalk or street; prohibiting them from grabbing someone or their property; and preventing them from approaching someone in a car or at an ATM.
"We learned from Columbus' experience," Kessler said when Bexley's proposed ordinance was introduced at Bexley City Council's Jan. 22 meeting. "In 2018, they introduced new language to protect really forceful panhandling and also privacy around ATM machines."
At council's second reading of the ordinance Feb. 5, Kessler said he has suggested amendments to allow for charitable solicitations in public rights-of-way, such as the Charity Newsies' annual fundraiser in which volunteers sell newspapers and collect money at intersections.
"This allows (charities) to apply for a permit to do that," Kessler said. "The chief of police and safety director review that and provide permission and sign off that the proposed solicitation won't cause excessive traffic congestion or hazard."
Kessler said he also suggested eliminating language that previously defined "suspicious persons," such as "any person having no lawful means of employment."
"We felt (those definitions) were duplicative of other sections of our criminal code or that they were, frankly, an infringement on people's individual rights and liberties," he said.
Bexley police Chief Larry Rinehart said he's confident Kessler's proposed amendments would not inhibit police from enforcing the legislation.
"The things we want to have covered are covered in other ordinances," Rinehart said. "We're not losing any enforcement tool by striking all of this."
Councilwoman Monique Lampke, chairwoman of council's Safety and Health Committee, introduced the ordinance.
She said council members will review Kessler's proposed amendments and discuss them at the legislation's third reading, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19.
"If folks feel they've had enough time to digest it, we can then decide to proceed with the third reading or we can suggest tabling it," she said.
Tuesday's meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Bexley City Hall, 2242 E. Main St.