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Mobtown Beat

Brother, Can You Spare Some Curb Space?

Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (5th District) introduced a bill that would prohibit “aggressive” panhandling and also any soliciting from the median strip in the road. Speaking in a hoarse voice, Spector said that the city had been “round and round with this issue” and that the county already has an ordinance prohibiting on-road panhandlers, then she asked for a meeting with Council President Jack Young’s staff to iron out legal details in the bill before a hearing.

The “round and round” dates from 2001, Spector says later, when she carried a bill in on behalf of the downtown partnership. “I know that there were issues raised by advocates for homeless people and people in poverty—they thought it was infringing on their rights,” she says, adding that Baltimore County “did pass a law that gave the police a tool to make the people cease and desist—made them come out of the dangerous areas and the roadway. It hasn’t got the criminal element to it.”

Spector’s bill would amend an existing panhandling ordinance that prescribes a civil citation for prohibited solicitation when it’s “passive” and calls for a fine “not more than $100” or 30 days in jail for the “aggressive” kind. The bill reads pretty broadly, as the existing definition of “soliciting” covers stuff like fire departments shaking the boot.

Laws like the one she proposed are trending but are fraught with civil liberties issues. A source on Young’s staff would only speak on background, and only to say the council president has no position on the matter.

Spector says the bill is aimed at improving public safety and that constituents have sent her letters citing problem panhandlers along Northern Parkway. She says she recently almost ran over a median-strip solicitor who came onto the road just as she was going to make a right turn while following a big truck. “I didn’t see him and when I got to the corner, he was right in my path,” Spector says. “The guy didn’t move. I had to go around him. If someone had been [driving in a car] to my right, I don’t know what I would have done.”

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