From WILL - News Headlines -

Panhandling Proposal Brings Out Opponents in Urbana

Urbana's city council will resume its discussion later this month on a proposed panhandling ordinance.

More than half of Monday night's four-hour committee of the whole meeting consisted of public comments with all but one person against the idea. The ordinance was suggested by Mayor Laurel Prussing on behalf of residents of Southeast Urbana. It doesn't ban panhandling per se. Tough, it does create restrictions on where it can happen. For example, it would be prohibited in Philo Road's Business District, on private property, and other designated locations, like near an ATM or bus stop.

The measure would also impact what is called 'aggressive' panhandling. Alderwoman Diane Marlin has heard of a number of recent panhandling cases, most of them involving seniors.

"A woman called me to tell me that she was driving to the gym on Colorado Avenue," she said. "And at 5:45 in the morning, her car was stopped in the middle of the street. A person was standing in the middle of the street, stopped her car, and demanded money. This woman felt threatened."

Esther Patt told council members in Monday night's committee of the whole meeting that protecting people in some areas, like near an ATM is fine, but the city should not infringe on a panhandler's speech.

"To make unlawful the utterance of words is reprehensible," Patt said. "It's un-American. And it's not necessary to accomplish your purpose."

The one backer of the ordinance among the public was Theresa Michaelson, who said seniors are afraid in the Philo Road Business District, where they're essentially trapped if approached by a panhandler in a fast food drive-thru.

Marlin said the ordinance as written strikes a balance between an individual's right to panhandle, protected under the First Amendment, and the public's right to be free of harassment. However, she said there is nothing to keep the city council from tweaking the measure when members take it up again July 25th.

Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly said officers have received more than 80 such complaints since last year.

Opponents question how police will interpret which panhandlers are violating the ordinance, as well as $165 fines against violators who probably don't have the money. Connolly said police would likely issue warnings on a first offense, but violators could also be sentenced to community service.

Talk on the proposal resumes July 25th.