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Panhandling ordinance reviewed

Krystle Wagner • Jul 21, 2015 at 1:44 PM

City Council is reviewing the city’s current panhandling ordinance following a court case involving the city of Grand Rapids and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented two individuals who panhandled.

Grand Haven City Attorney Scott Smith said the recommended changes come after an appeals court found Grand Rapids’ panhandling ordinance denied freedom of speech. Smith said the ACLU recommended cities review and change their ordinances.

Grand Haven’s current ordinance states it’s unlawful for any person to accost, molest, beg, panhandle or willfully annoy another person. Smith said cities aren't allowed to blanket prohibit panhandling, but can regulate the behavior.

The recommendation adjusts the current ordinance and adds regulations about dangerous, offensive or misleading solicitation.

"We don't want the public to be scammed," Smith said.

City Manager Pat McGinnis said the city hasn’t had a great number of panhandling complaints.

He said the city wanted to take the time to review the ordinance so officials could have the right tools in place that don’t violate free speech, should the need arise.

When the city handles a panhandling complaint, McGinnis said the first approach is to find out what help the person needs, and how they can help.

The recommended changes would make it unlawful to solicit on private property, within 15 feet of an entrance or exit of a public restroom, within 15 feet of an ATM machine or pay phone, and within 15 feet of any transit stop.

Panhandlers also wouldn’t be allowed to mislead the public by creating a false statement, false visual statement, or omitting information that causes a misleading statement.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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