Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Covington limits panhandling

Banned in MainStrasse and on riverfront

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - By a 3-2 vote Tuesday, Covington City Commission banned all panhandling in MainStrasse and on the riverfront and prohibited "aggressive panhandling" elsewhere.

The new ordinance will take effect in about a week. Although Covington has a law that bans panhandling, recent challenges to other cities' laws prompted City Solicitor Jay Fossett to re-examine Covington's ordinance.

Instead of banning panhandling citywide, the amended ordinance would instead prohibit it in tourist areas such as MainStrasse and on the riverfront. "Aggressive panhandling" - using abusive language, blocking a person's way, continuing to solicit after someone's said no, following the person, and panhandling near ATM machines - also would be prohibited.

Commissioner Alex Edmondson said Covington needs to be tougher on beggars, while Commissioner Bernie Moorman said he doesn't think the new law will be effective.

Saying there's "no perfect panhandling law in the United States," Mayor Butch Callery cast the deciding vote. He said the measure will give police more tools to use by adding fines and community service as possible penalties. The current law only calls for jail time.

Edmondson said he knows of a man who begs for money, then gets in his car and drives home.

"I think we need to be aggressive and lock these people up," he said.

Edmondson said he doesn't think the threat of community service will deter beggars. He added he's asking the police chief to let him know every time someone's cited.

"How are street people going to pay a $100 fine?" Moorman asked. He said offenders would likely welcome a stay in jail where they're guaranteed a bed and three meals a day. He also questioned the effectiveness of community service for people "who have dropped out of the realm of social responsibility," saying it would take more time and expense to supervise them than it would be worth.

"I don't know what the answer is," Moorman said.

But Commissioner Craig Bohman said the law is a beginning.

He asked city staff to continue monitoring Cincinnati's new licensing law for panhandlers.

That law is currently being challenged in federal court.


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