Kansas City lawmakers hope a new ordinance will stop panhandling in traffic

August 25, 2018 - 11:18 pm

Kansas City lawmakers hope a recently proposed ordinance will stop panhandling in traffic without violating the First Amendment.

The Kansas City Star reported that Councilwoman Teresa Loar introduced the ordinance Thursday. The ordinance doesn't use the word "panhandle," but instead says pedestrians can only be on a median, traffic island or non-sidewalk area near a highway ramp for as long as it takes to cross safely.

Courts across the U.S. have dismissed laws banning panhandlers on the grounds that they violate free expression rights. The proposed ordinance seeks to maneuver around the issue by focusing on pedestrian safety.

The city has a 2007 ordinance that prohibits "aggressive panhandling," which is defined as touching, threatening or following someone for money. Then-police chief Jim Corwin didn't enforce the measure because of constitutional concerns and while the measure remains in effect, it's only enforced sporadically.

Critics of anti-panhandling laws say they suggest homeless people are criminals.

But Loar said the new ordinance is needed as the city is seeing an increase in complaints about panhandling. The city's 311 action center received 176 complaints through the first six months of this year, compared to 191 complaints all of 2017.

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