Archive for Saturday, December 12, 2009

Total ban on panhandling not likely

License option now being considered

The city is reconsidering a plan for a full ban on panhandling in downtown Lawrence. The city would most likely be tied up in costly legal fees and a first amendment lawsuit.

December 12, 2009


On the street

Do you think aggressive panhandling is a problem downtown?

Kind of. I’ve lived here all my life and it’s always been bad.

More responses

A proposal for a complete ban on panhandling in downtown is receiving negative feedback from the city’s legal team over concerns that such regulations wouldn’t pass Constitutional muster.

City Commissioner Aron Cromwell, the chief proponent of a complete downtown panhandling ban, said he likely won’t pursue the idea further.

“It looks like a total ban is not going to work,” Cromwell said.

But he said the city still needs to do something to address concerns that panhandlers are discouraging shoppers and visitors from going downtown.

City staff members are presenting an option that would require panhandlers who want to verbally solicit donations to receive a city license, and that also would ban “active” panhandling at night.

Under the proposal, people still would be able to hold a sign that asks for donations, and musicians still would be able to play music on the sidewalks without receiving a city license. But if people want to verbally ask for a donation or want to actively wave the sign or do something else to draw attention to themselves, they would be required to receive a license. Charities would be required to get a license to solicit downtown, if they do so verbally. If they don’t do so verbally, they generally would not be required to have a license.

City attorneys thinkthe license should be free to not run afoul of the First Amendment. But the city would ask for a complete name, would take a picture, and would also ask for an address or place where the person could frequently be found.

Jane Pennington, director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said the recommendation was not all that the downtown group had hoped for. But she said the licensing process may deter some.

“I think it could make a dent,” Pennington said. “I just don’t think very many are going to go to the trouble to get a license, even if it is free.”

Cromwell, though, said he’s not sure the licensing system would be worth the city’s effort. Instead, he said the city needs to focus on enforcing existing laws. The city already has a law that makes it illegal to aggressively panhandle, which is defined as repeatedly asking someone for a donation or touching the person. Laws also exist that make it illegal, in some cases, to sit on the city’s sidewalks or to solicit donations near an ATM or a bus stop.

Since late this fall, the city has added police officers who are doing frequent foot patrols in the downtown area. Cromwell said he thoughthaving officers nearby to respond to concerns would help the problem significantly.

“The reality is that we have a few people who caused a lot of mischief this summer, and we need that kind of stuff reported right away,” Cromwell said.

Pennington said she still is concerned that even if panhandlers aren’t being aggressive that they still could harm downtown business.

“I have a feeling that people still won’t want to bring their kids down here and walk on the sidewalks if every bench and planter has somebody with a sign on it,” Pennington said.

But Scott Miller, an attorney for the city, said banning such passive panhandling activities likely would draw a legal challenge.

“Almost none of the cities that we surveyed regulated passive panhandling in any way, and none of them instituted anything close to a complete ban,” Miller said. “There is a concern that type of regulation is much less likely to withstand First Amendment scrutiny.”

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the issue — but not vote on the matter — at their 6:35 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.


Kris_H 8 years, 6 months ago

The way to stop the panhandlers from being on the sidewalks is to stop giving them money. They are out there because that works for them, so obviously at least some people who pass through downtown Lawrence are supporting them. If you want to help, give to a food pantry or other social service agency.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 6 months ago

Sooner or later Jane Pennington and other existing business owners are going to have to admit it is not necessarily the panhandlers.

Only local business people can stop the drain on downtown.This is the major factor affecting downtown and all other existing retail business operators:

July 24, 2009

To the editor:

The July 14 editorial asks, “What’s downtown going to look like five, 10 or 15 years from now?” The answer can be known, and the picture is not pretty.

Lawrence has enough spending to support about 4.1 million square feet of retail space, but the City Commission permitted developers to expand the supply to over 5.5 million square feet.

Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown.

The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted.

The taxpayers’ $8 million parking garage stands largely empty. The Hobbs-Taylor building and the 600 block of Massachusetts should be the top performing spaces in the community, but they have significant vacancies.

The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

The developers’ short-term gain is now our long-term loss. Managed growth would have prevented much of the problem and would have protected and enhanced our downtown.

It will take many, many years to absorb this surplus space and, until this happens, it will be hard for downtown to compete.

We can only look forward to many years of high vacancy and disinvestment. We need a City Commission that knows how to pace the growth of supply so as to protect our unique downtown.

Keith 8 years, 6 months ago

Just expand the door to door sales registration process to include solicitation for money.

ahimsa 8 years, 6 months ago

Ban cigarette smoking on the sidewalks except for paying customers of businesses with outside seating. That should take care of most of the panhandlers. This has worked in other areas with panhandling problems.

Sean Livingstone 8 years, 6 months ago

Rather than not giving to any panhandlers, I'd suggest to give to selective panhandlers. Those musicians are nice additions to have, and they give downtown the right atmosphere. At least they play music and are doing something. For those who just stick out their hands.... I'd rather not give them a penny. Cheers.

50YearResident 8 years, 6 months ago

Allowing "some form" of panhandling is opening Pandora's Box. Panhandleing will only increse with a "license" for a free pass on passive panhandlers. Those with "The License" will double or tripple very quickly. This will not work to save downtown as we have known it.

smarty_pants 8 years, 6 months ago

My job brings me in contact with Lawrence homeless who have been arrested. I have learned through my interactions that Lawrence is indeed a "haven" for the homeless and many come from Texas, Colorado, and even further because the "bank" is so good in downtown Lawrence. Just a few hours on Mass St sets many up to drink all day. It's disgusting and they need to be removed. Come on people; we're just enabling them. I'm talking about the professional homeless who live to drink and/or do drugs, not those who are truly deserving of help.

Kris_H 8 years, 6 months ago

I should have clarified...I have no problem giving to the sidewalk performers, or "buskers." To me, they are not panhandlers.

smarty_pants 8 years, 6 months ago

I offered to buy food to a woman who was panhandling with her toddler; she didn't want it. She wanted money to feed her habit. Where is child protective services?

geekin_topekan 8 years, 6 months ago

I hope this passes! I want a photo license to panhandle to hang around my rear view mirror.

begin60 8 years, 6 months ago

Aggressive self-defined and self-flattering "do-gooders" are way more of a problem in Lawrence than the panhandlers. These disrespectful and demeaning locals approach complete strangers with their mindless and pre-programmed and Pavlovian-like conditioning often touching people and/or grabbing their belongings while imposing their ignorant and destructive, one-size-fits-all discriminatory definitions of being "helpful".This is often way more terrorizing than aggressive panhandling because it's a completely intrusive violation of personal boundaries and privacy. If it's illegal to aggress on people and touch them when you are panhandling it's illegal to approach strangers like this and self-flatteringly insinuate yourself into someone's space.You god-forsaken harassers need to look into getting a license from the city.Panhandlers are beloved children of God and the milk- of -human kindness compared to you evil and ignorant terrorists.

50YearResident 8 years, 6 months ago

Is the Library open today? We seem to have some panhandler posts today.

DGL 8 years, 6 months ago

I have no problem with street musicians who get licensed to perform on public sidewalks. I have a HUGE problem with being hounded for money every time I step out of my car. It looks like it'll be up to the business owners to fight back by not allowing panhandlers to loiter near their businesses.

Jonathan Becker 8 years, 6 months ago

Rather than banning panhandling downtown, why don't we ban business downtown. That will send the panhandlers packing, eh?

planetaryjim 8 years, 6 months ago

It seems to me that what Aron Cromwell and the other authoritarian dictatorship enthusiasts want is a boycott on downtown business. The cronyism of the political system is bad enough in DC and Topeka, but now they want to make being downtown a privilege rather than a freedom.

They want to either demand a fee for being downtown to hang out, talk to friends, juggle, play guitar, ask for directions, hold a sign protesting war, hold a sign protesting poverty, or do any other thing. I won't pay any fee. I'll come and go as I please, hold signs, and do just what I want downtown.

But I won't buy coffee there, I won't meet there, I won't shop there, I won't help the people oppressing me. Screw them.

Mayor Chestnut has a fine house out on Fox Chase. Maybe he'd like to demonstrate his charity by having the panhandlers out there? A candle light vigil in front of his home (he's in the phone book) every evening might encourage him to go easy on panhandlers downtown.

Of course giving people money to play music or in response to requests encourages them. If you want to give them a job, or teach them a trade, do that, instead. But if you have no money to give, what makes you think you won't be asking for money one day? Where is your Christian charity, Lawrence KS?

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 6 months ago

I have no problem with panhandlers. I think everyone regardless of social status should be polite and respectful in how they approach someone. It may not be as easy as some thing to approach a stranger and ask for money.
As Shakespeare wrote in All’s Well that Ends Well: “My poor body, madam, requires it: I am driven on by the flesh; and he must needs go that the devil drives”.

planetaryjim 8 years, 6 months ago

Irish, I agree with your proposal. Happily, there is an existing "aggressive panhandling" ordinance. People have camera phones and can call the police if they see any need to enforce that law with police action. As well, people can simply defend themselves - against assault, mugging, rape, battery, or any other type of aggression. It is lawful to carry a gun in Kansas, and many people do.

The proposed ordinance is on the City web site. It proposes not only licensing panhandling and all other downtown activities other than entering and leaving a store to shop - and you'd better purchase something or they'll arrest you for shoplifting or loitering - but also it proposes to eliminate all such activities after sunset and before sunrise. It also proposes to eliminate all such activities at any time of day in the downtown area.

The agenda materials are 25 megabytes and include much about the $2.9 million lab facility they city demands be built for one nano-tech company that needs about $1 million of lab space. And a bunch of other stuff, annexations, approvals, etc. But I downloaded it and read the proposed ordinance.

Now, for those of you who have no Christian charity, who don't view your fellow man as worthy of lifting up out of the gutter, do consider all the other things that you won't be allowed to do downtown. Gathering in groups larger than four, talking, singing, caroling, ringing bells for the Salvation Army, holding signs protesting war, signing up voters, selling unlicensed fruits and vegetables, giving out Bible tracts - none of it is to be allowed. Not in the down town area, ever, not without a license in other parts of town, not without waiting for the Sun to rise at 7:30 a.m., and definitely not after it sets at 4:59 p.m.

Where does the city derive its authority to propose such evil restraints on free expression? It has none. It is just evil dictatorial men wanting to hurt others as much as possible.

beachbumin 8 years, 6 months ago

planetaryjim; I am born and raised in Lawrence and it sickens me to see all of the panhandlers downtown. I struggle daily to make ends meet, but I work 3 jobs and my wife works 2 jobs. I don't see signs offering to work for money, just give me money. Don't tell me by giving them money that I will be lifting my fellow man out of the gutter. Why should I have to take a picture and call the police because someone is aggressively demanding money from me while I am out shopping or getting a freaking haircut.They aren't trying to make being downtown a privilege or a freedom, just an enjoyable experience. I have lived here almost 50 years, how long have you been here? If you believe the downtown merchants are oppressing you then why are you there? Are you also implying that I use my right to carry a gun to shoot the next aggressive panhandler I come across or that he may shoot me? signed: an evil dictatorial man

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