GREENSBORO, N.C. - After months of heated debate, Greensboro City Council has voted to repeal the current panhandling rules. It passed with a 9-0 vote. City leaders at a special called meeting also decided to replace the rules with a less restrictive ordinance, which passed on the second reading of that ordinance - 5 to 4.
City attorney Tom Carruthers says the new panhandling rules are more specific and not as broad, therefore less restrictive to panhandlers.
"Solicitation is protected under the Constitution. It is part of our free speech. It is what is called in the ordinance a legitimate purpose," he said.
People asking for the money in public will still have to follow guidelines regarding how they can ask, and where they can do it. Let's break it down.
The three things to know about the new rules:
- Panhandlers can't unreasonably block the sidewalk when asking for money, or get in the way of traffic. They also can't be on a median less than six feet wide. Carruthers says this is a safety concern.
- Panhandlers can't solicit in certain public parking decks and parking lots - which will be marked with signs.
- Panhandlers can't harass or repeatedly ask someone for money.
To find the full version of the ordinance click here.
"A legitimate purpose done with actions that are illegitimate, like harassing...Once the person being harassed indicates that it needs to stop, then that becomes a misdemeanor in the city of Greensboro," said Carruthers.
Even this revised version isn't pleasing everyone. At tonight's meeting, several people spoke against any type of panhandling regulation. But Mayor Nancy Vaughan hopes they can see why the council voted to approve the new rules today.
"I hope they will be able to sit back and review exactly what it was that we passed," she said, "People are entitled to say no, and that should really guide the way the conversation goes."
Last week, advocacy groups - including the ACLU - representing people who have experienced homelessness filed a lawsuit in federal court. They're calling the current panhandling ordinance on the books unconstitutional and a violation of First Amendment laws. The day after that filing, city leaders put out a notice for today's meeting. The issue was to be discussed at the August 21st meeting, however, leaders moved up the discussion and vote in light of the lawsuit.
On Tuesday, the federal judge denied a temporary restraining order requested in the lawsuit - prior to the special-called meeting. In the court order, the judge stated that if the council repealed the old ordinance - which they did - the lawsuit would be a moot point. One of the plaintiff's attorneys says they're meeting Wednesday to figure out how to move forward.
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