Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector introduced a bill Monday that would crack down on what she deems "aggressive" panhandling.
Spector's bill would make it illegal for people to solicit handouts along street shoulders, medians and in traffic. It's a problem that's been getting worse with time, the 5th District Democrat said, and her constituents frequently ask her to fix it.
"It's the aggressive kind of panhandling that I've been trying to get my arms around for a long time," Spector said Monday. "The police need a tool to do something about it. It's been persistent. It's a dangerous situation, and it's getting worse."
At a lunch Monday, council members discussed the bill and some raised questions. Councilman Robert W. Curran, of the 3rd District, wondered how it would affect firefighters, charitable institutions and youth sports teams that seek roadside donations.
"You have the boot for the Fire Department and you have all these teams," Curran asked. "What about the rose sellers?"
"My issue is public safety," Spector responded.
Later, Spector said she would try to carve out exceptions that would allow certain groups to obtain permits to solicit donations. The councilwoman also said she wasn't sure what kind of penalties the law would carry, if approved.
"The police would be able to move them on or take them in," Spector said of panhandlers, adding that she planned to iron out those details at a future work session. "It's a work in progress. It has to start somewhere."
Meredith Curtis, spokeswoman for the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said her organization has concerns about the bill.
"The Supreme Court has ruled that solicitation is protected free speech," Curtis said. "What the government cannot do is discriminate between different groups and individuals who wish to speak. We would be very concerned that in the enforcement of such a law that people who are homeless would be targeted."
Spector said she doesn't believe her proposal would violate any constitutional provisions.
On a different matter, the administration of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake introduced a bill proposing a generous tax break to builders of apartment buildings downtown and in six other neighborhoods. The legislation would provide tax breaks that would decline over 15 years to developers of market-rate apartment buildings with 50 or more units. In the first two years following the issuance of an occupancy permit for the building, the owner would pay no property tax.
Additionally, Councilman Brandon Scott, of the 2nd District, called for the council's Public Safety Committee to hold several investigative hearings, including addressing what he called an "uptick" in violent crime and a plan to hire an outside consultant to evaluate the police department and develop a long-term plan.
Also, Councilman James Kraft, of the 1st District, moved forward with a plan to do away with permitted parking in Canton.
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