Standing on the corner and holding a sign asking for money is a protected constitutional right, according to interpretations by the U.S. Supreme Court that are forcing cities such as Beavercreek and Dayton to reconsider ordinances aimed at keeping beggars off the corners.
Beavercreek council members will vote a third and final time Monday to repeal the city’s panhandling ordinance, which spells out dozens of ways people are not allowed to stand in a public space and ask people for handouts. Violating the current ordinance is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and if it is violated three times in a year, it becomes a third-degree misdemeanor offense.
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The city is repealing the law after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, which determined that panhandling is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment, said Beavercreek City Manager Pete Landrum.
“The city took this action based on the court’s decision and to avoid a constitutional challenge,” Landrum said.
Dayton city leaders also struck down a similar local ordinance. After that move, Dayton council members passed a new pedestrian safety law that prohibits people from approaching vehicles traveling on the city’s busiest thoroughfares. Homeless advocates say the new law indirectly targeting panhandlers.
Dayton leaders said the move was necessary to prevent an increasing pattern of pedestrian strikes.
Landrum said the city does not have plans to pass any new law related to panhandling.
Beavercreek has a “relatively low” number of reports and complaints of panhandling, and the repeal of the law “will not have a significant impact on our response to panhandlers,” said police Capt. Chad Lindsey.
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“On average, we typically receive one to two reports of panhandling per week. In general, our practice has been to issue warnings if we were able to locate the panhandler,” Lindsey said. “We will continue to assess the circumstances of each situation and enforce the applicable laws as needed.”
People who beg for handouts in Beavercreek often do so near along the exit ramps of Interstate 675, particularly at North Fairfield Road.
Mayor Bob Stone said he doesn’t often see any panhandling activity in the main part of the city.
“Initially, the regulation that we passed addressing panhandling was due to citizen complaints,” Stone said. “It doesn’t make sense to have a law on the books that you can’t enforce.”
According to the discussion from Beavercreek council’s Sept. 24 meeting, city Law Director Steve McHugh advised panhandling is a protected right, similar to putting an election sign in one’s front yard.
Council member Julie Vann wanted to know what can be done legally to curb panhandling, as the law being struck down was recommended only a few years ago.
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McHugh said things have changed, and if the city chose to enforce the law, it could be hit with a lawsuit.
McHugh, responding to council member Charles Curran about tools that can curb panhandling, said people cannot block traffic or assault others.
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