Leaders of Iowa’s second largest city have set aside a proposed “aggressive” panhandling ordinance which was drafted to target pushy panhandlers who stand at high-traffic intersections and ask motorists for help. Instead of approving the ordinance last night, Cedar Rapids City Council members sent the measure back to a Public Safety Committee with the general direction that it needs to be narrower in scope.
Captain Steve O’Konek said the police department backed the proposal because of citizen complaints. “There have been common themes of abusive or threatening behavior. We’ve had traffic problem calls and when we get there we find sometimes the people are intoxicated,” O’Konek said. The ordinance would have barred panhandling at intersections with traffic lights, in parking ramps, at bus terminals, and within 50 feet of banks and ATMs.
Most city council members, including Ralph Russell, said the measure was too broad. “It looks like it’s all too encompassing for the little bit of problem that we’re trying to control here,” Russell said. Criminal laws such as assault, intoxication and trespassing already take care of some of the problem without a panhandling ordinance, according to Russell.
But, council member Kris Gulick said he’s been involved in two near crashes at busy intersections as cars stopped to give money to panhandlers on the side of the road. He favored the proposed ordinance as written. “Somebody is going to get killed and I guarantee you the city council will take action the next week,” Gulick said.
Some council members who were against the proposed ordinance suggested panhandlers who camp along streets be required to register with the city. Then, the city could do a background check and offer services to those registering. A couple of residents asked council members to seek more advice on a panhandling ordinance from officials who serve the poor and homeless.
by Forrest Saunders, KCRG-TV