Aurora -- Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said the city is researching its ability to regulate panhandling and is considering an ordinance. "We are exploring our options," she said Aug. 8.
The purpose of the legislation would be "to protect the safety of the citizens of Aurora while also protecting freedom of expression," she said. "Some surrounding cities have ordinances regarding where panhandlers can and cannot stand, for instance, so as not to impede traffic or impair vision at an intersection."
Womer Benjamin said the legislation probably will be introduced in September. She added she has gotten emails and inquiries about panhandling. She said she and the police department have both noticed it is becoming more common.
"Anytime you want to regulate an area like this, you are dealing with the First Amendment," Law Director Dean DePiero said. "When government acts in this manner, the reasons have to be justified and there has to be a significant government interest that is seeking to be protected."
DePiero said the city cannot ban panhandling because it is "a freedom of expression and speech. There have been a number of rulings that allow for regulation of time, manner and place." He gave some examples of how this regulation could be applied, such as restricting certain times of day or night, a certain distance from a street and by requiring permits.
DePiero said he does not recommend the city charging a fee for permits. He said it is common for police departments to check on people who obtain permits to make sure there are no outstanding arrest warrants, and he said sometimes warrants restrict permits being issued to people who have felony convictions.
COUNCILMAN Jim Vaca, discussing the exact interpretation of a panhandler, said it could be someone selling goods off a truck or people going door-to-door for religious reasons.
DePiero said sometimes the situation involves commercial enterprise, but he said the complaints the city has received are not of that nature. Instead, they are about someone asking for money.
He said the interpretation will have to be examined when the ordinance is drafted, but the legislation draft will not have any commercial connection to it.
Councilman Harold Hatridge said he feels there's a broad latitude because currently nothing is in the books. He said he is concerned with people at intersections, and he is worried the traffic pattern will be disrupted if someone is soliciting close to an intersection. He suggested limiting the time people may panhandle.
DePiero said private property owners can tell trespassers to leave. He said some cities have not acted with regard to panhandling because they are concerned with the potential of a [legal] challenge. He said there are existing ordinances that can be used.
Council President George Horvat said he believes this is excessive. He asked if others were referring to just one individual. Hatridge said he has seen more than one panhandler since he has lived in Aurora, noting it is not a lone incident.
DePiero said this is a policy decision, and if the city wants to fill the holes in the ordinances and put restrictions on such activity, he will do his best to draft an ordinance.
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