Council Eyes Stricter Panhandling Law



Panhandling has become “extremely disturbing and disruptive” to the people and businesses in Memphis, according to a new proposal, so Memphis City Council members want to crack down on “begging.”

Memphis already has panhandling rules in place as well as rules on “aggressive panhandling.” A new proposal by council member Phillip Spinosa would make panhandling illegal during more of the day and in more places, and make its fines higher.

Spinosa formally introduced his ordinance on panhandling to the council Tuesday. He said the proposal was “designed around public safety,” noting that he hoped the ordinance would, among other things, stop panhandlers from walking into traffic at intersections to ask for money.

The ordinance would expand the hours panhandling is illegal “two hours on the front end and two hours on the back end,” as said by Memphis Police Department director Michael Rallings. If Spinosa’s proposals were passed, panhandling would be illegal from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m.

The ordinance adds to an already long list of places where panhandling is a misdemeanor offense. The rule already includes entries to health care facilities, banks, parking lot pay boxes, pay telephones, and more. The proposal would add intersections with traffic signal, overpasses, railroad crossing, crosswalks, and more.

Rawlings said he supports Spinosa’s proposal and was glad the issue is on the table. He said hopes to continue the weeks-long debate that might end in a new panhandling law for the city.

As it stands, Rallings said the $50 ticket pandhandlers get now aren’t seen as a big deal and they let them stack up.

Council member Berlin Boyd, who called panhandling "begging," said he’d prefer to address poverty, what he said was the underlying cause of panhandling, “so we wouldn’t have to have so many of these micro-type ordinances.”

The statement garnered gentle ribbing from council member Worth Morgan who said if the council could pass a law to get rid of poverty, “let’s pass it.”

The council's Public Safety & Homeland Security Council sent the ordinance (with a positive recommendation) to the full council. It will get its first full-council vote in two weeks.

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