Beer, Panhandling Ordinances Move Ahead

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In a jam-packed committee room, a Memphis City Council committee voted Tuesday to move ahead with two ordinances regulating the sale of beer and aggressive panhandling downtown.

It will be at least six weeks before the ordinances take effect if the full council approves them. Members and staffers have been swamped with calls on this one.

The ordinances were supported by The Peabody, Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin, the Center City Commission, and the Downtown Neighborhood Association among others. A couple of supporters brought signs that said "Please help make downtown safer for our families to live," and one couple brought their baby in a stroller.

The issue is not as cut and dried as it may seem on first glance. Some council members, including Wanda Halbert and Barbara Swearengen Ware, fear that panhandlers will be pushed into their districts, or that similar problems in their districts get less attention than downtown does. Another issue is what happens to aggressive panhandlers once they are arrested when judges and prosecutors are faced with violent crimes and a crowded jail. Enforcement has been described as "catch and release."

But the sense of the meeting was that something must be done in a downtown that depends so much on tourism. A representative of The Peabody said guests and employees must feel safe. And a representative of a group of meeting planners said some convention business was probably lost due to a bad experience one of their members had while walking near Beale Street.

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