Dayton passes ordinance increasing the regulation of panhandling
In recent months there has been a noticeable increase in the number of individuals who stand at the top of Dayton-area exit ramps and non-verbally solicit money. These panhandlers, usually holding a handwritten sign, can be found at the top of ramps where traffic is forced to stop for a traffic light. By not asking for money verbally, these individuals have been skirting the City of Dayton ordinance, which regulates panhandling.
The proposal introduced last Wednesday at the Dayton City Commission would require a “soliciting permit” to hold any sign asking for money and would restrict the times, places and manner for holding such a sign. A permit already is required for panhandlers actively asking for money but not for those passively holding signs.
When passed in 2004, the Dayton solicitation law attempted to regulate the practice of panhandling. The ordinance prohibited panhandling in various areas, including the public right-of-way, at bus stops and near ATMs. Panhandling is specifically prohibited between sunset and sunrise, and panhandlers are required to display a City of Dayton registration card. These stipulations would continue under the amended ordinance approved today.
The ordinance leaves unchanged the penalties for those who violate the ordinance. Anyone caught violating the place, time and manners of panhandling may be charged with a fourth degree misdemeanor, which carries a potential 30-day jail term and $250 fine.
By the passage of the ordinance, the Dayton City Commission added use of signs or gestures to the definition of what constitutes panhandling. The amendment makes it easier to address illegal panhandling in areas where individuals have found a way around the law by using signs or other non-verbal means to solicit money from passing drivers. These areas include public right-of-ways such as roadsides and highway exit ramps.
Critics of the ordinance claim that it violates free speech and in these difficult economic times, it is unfair to so severely restrict panhandling, which has become the only means of support for a family in some instances.
Is the recent passage of an ordinance by the Dayton City Commission expanding the definition of panhandling to include non-verbal solicitation a justified exercise of the City of Dayton’s police power? Or is the revised law a violation of first amendment rights?