Atlanta City Council Signs Off On Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance

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    Special to the Atlanta Daily World

    The Atlanta City Council approved by a vote of 14-0 a compromise ordinance that will allow the city to regulate aggressive monetary solicitation across the entire City.
    The substitute ordinance was sponsored by Council Members Keisha Lance Bottoms, District 11, and Michael J. Bond, Post 1 At-Large. It expands the definition of aggressive solicitation by prohibiting someone from continuing to ask for money after he or she has been told “no.” (Legislative Reference No. 12-O-1324).

    It represents a compromise between the administration and City Council after an amendment to the city’s commercial solicitation ordinance was vetoed by the administration last month. That amendment, as proposed by City Council Member Bond, called for up to 180 days in jail upon conviction of a first offense for an aggressive panhandling violation.

    Under the compromise ordinance, upon first conviction, a violator could be sentenced to the performance of up to thirty (30 days) of community service. A second conviction for aggressive panhandling will require the violator to serve a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail. Upon the third or future convictions, the violator will be required to serve a mandatory minimum of 90 days in jail.

    The judicial system would have discretion in sentencing and social services options will be available.

    “This is not a heartless piece of legislation,” said City Council Member Bottoms. “A judge will still have the discretion in sentencing and to make available assistance for those in true need of social services.”

    “This legislation protects our citizens from those wolves who – to the detriment of those truly in need – cloak themselves in sheep’s clothing,” said Council Member Bond. “For those who need it, they will be able to obtain the help and services they so desperately require.”

    Supporters say the new legislation combines the successful elements of the City’s previous panhandling ordinances and adds provisions that make it relevant to today’s circumstances. For example:

    • Like the 1996 and 2005 commercial solicitation laws, the pending legislation outlaws monetary solicitation within 15 feet of locations where people feel intimidated when someone asks them for money, such as at an ATM machine or at a parking lot pay box.
    • Like the 1996 but unlike the 2005 commercial solicitation laws, the pending legislation makes it illegal to monetarily solicit someone who is within 15 feet of a building entrance or exit, or is standing in line to enter a building or event facility.
    • The legislation re-defines monetary solicitation so that it applies to all commercial solicitation performed by anyone. This ordinance does not target specific types of commercial solicitation performed by certain city residents.
    • The legislation applies equally throughout the City. There are no special provisions for tourist areas.

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