Battle Creek considers outlawing panhandling, loitering

BATTLE CREEK, MICH. - Battle Creek commissioners will cast their final votes Tuesday on a set of ordinances aimed to regulate panhandling and loitering within city limits.

The ordinances were introduced Aug. 16 in a split vote, the first of two steps needed in order for the proposals to become law. If adopted this week, activities such as remaining "idly" within 25 feet of an intersection and soliciting money from anyone waiting in line or near building entrances would be prohibited.

​Commissioners meet at 7 p.m. in City Hall's commission chambers, 10 N. Division St. The meeting is open to the public.

The proposals have sparked debate in Battle Creek over whether laws should be implemented to protect those who feel threatened by panhandlers — and if such rules would infringe on constitutional rights and treat the poor unfairly.

Federal court rulings have found bans on peaceful begging in violation of the First Amendment, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan also has sent a letter to city officials arguing the local proposals "would not survive constitutional scrutiny." City attorneys say such issues have been addressed in the ordinances.

The ordinances would take effect 10 days after they're adopted by commissioners. Last month, five voted in favor: Mayor Dave Walters, Vice Mayor Susan Baldwin and commissioners Mark Behnke, Deb Owens and Mike Sherzer. The remaining four — commissioners Kaytee Faris, Kate Flores, Andy Helmboldt and Lynn Ward Gray — dissented.

Also included in Tuesday's agenda is a resolution, requested by Flores, that would create a street outreach task force. It's described as a "multi-sector ad hoc committee" that would provide recommendations within nine months to commissioners regarding panhandling issues.

The staff memo said the group would include representatives from city government, business, service organizations and those who have been homeless or who have panhandled. It would collect data and information "to build understanding related to homelessness and panhandling," review root causes and consider programs focused on education and donations to local service providers.

The group would coordinate efforts with the Homeless Coalition, according to the memo.

Violations of the ordinance up for a final vote Tuesday would be considered civil infractions and could result in fines.

Here is what would be prohibited:

• Asking for money or other goods "whether through words or conduct" from sunset to sunrise except on public property with an official license or permit, or on private property with permission from owner or party in control.

• Soliciting money from anyone waiting in line to enter a building, or within 15 feet of building entrances and exits, outdoor seating areas, public restroom entrances, public transportation vehicles and bus stops.

• Accosting — "approaching another person in a way that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested" — and what's described as "forcing oneself upon another," such as continuing to ask for money after being turned down.

• Loitering within 15 feet of public restroom entrances and ATMs.

• Remaining "idly" within 25 feet of an intersection of roads, "unless such person has an official license or permit to conduct activities at that location."

Battle Creek Enquirer


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