By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK – Aggressive begging was banned at the March 15 City Council meeting, with the body voting to amend its loitering, begging and soliciting ordinance.
City Attorney Ed Zelenak said the ordinance is an attempt to eradicate the evolution of rude and obnoxious conduct arising out of the constitutionally-protected act of begging.
He said the Police Department has responded to complaints about fights and disorderly conduct among and between individuals begging in public spaces and along the public rights-of-way.
“The process of begging in public is generally protected; the process of disrupting traffic and commerce in the public rights-of-way while begging is not,” Zelenak said. “The ordinance is an effort to dial back the aggressive activities perpetrated and acted out by those who could otherwise be lawfully seeking contributions, erroneously electing to act out other prohibited conduct in public.”
He said the proposed ordinance has not been tested in the courts and said he offers no assurance of its general sustainability.
“It appears to withstand constitutional scrutiny by not prohibiting the action of begging, but rather providing for penalties for collateral conduct,” Zelenak said.
In the amendment to the existing ordinance, accosting is defined as approaching or speaking to a person in a manner which would cause a reasonable person to fear imminent bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon their person or the property in their possession.
Forcing oneself upon the company of another occurs when the person continues to ask, beg or solicit after receiving a negative response, blocks the person’s passage or engages in conduct that could be understood as intended to compel or force a person to comply with the beggar’s demands.
It is illegal to solicit on private property where they have been asked not to, or where a sign is posted.
Soliciting within 15 feet of a public toilet, an automatic teller machine, a pay phone or a bus stop or taxi stand also is forbidden.
They may not enter a road, unless helping with emergency vehicle repairs at another person’s request.
Beggars may not solicit people waiting in line outside a public or private building, such as a business or athletic facility, without the knowledge and consent of the owner or party in control of the building.
The ordinance also states that it is unlawful to solicit money or things of value by accosting another person or forcing one’s company upon another.
Mayor Thomas Karnes said that someone standing near an intersection with a sign is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Zelenak said the balancing test is whether it is protected speech or “protected begging.”
“It is the aggressive begging that defines the difference and allows the issuance of citations,” he said.
Zelenak said a violation would be a misdemeanor charge, with the maximum penalty a 90-day sentence and $500 fine.