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Councilor gives panhandling proposal more time

January 21, 2014
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The sponsor of a panhandling ordinance plans to pull it from City-County Council consideration for a second time.

The proposal, which would restrict begging and street performances in most downtown areas, is scheduled to be heard by the council's Rules and Public Policy Committee on Tuesday evening. The committee advanced the proposal to the full council with a 5-2 vote in November, but then, in December, the council sent it back to address complaints from the arts community.

Sponsor Jeff Miller said he asked committee Chairwoman Maggie Lewis to drop the proposal from Tuesday's agenda so he can introduce a new one to the council in February. He said the restrictions will be the same, but he wants to pass an ordinance that's cleanly worded and easy to understand. The proposal reflects a series of amendments to the existing code.

Miller admitted that the delay will also give him time to reach out to Broad Ripple constituents and hear from anyone else who hasn't come forward already. He said he's not looking to make substantial changes. “We want to hear people's concerns, though,” he said.

The proposal bans all forms of solicitation – whether shaking a cup or playing an instrument – within 50 feet of ATMs, crosswalks, banks, parking meters, underpasses and outdoor restaurants. It also outlaws solicitation under any circumstances from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

The ban applies to the entire city, but the greatest impact will likely be felt in areas like downtown, where the restricted zones are most dense.

One change Miller would still consider is carving out a cultural zone, possibly in Broad Ripple, where solicitation would be permitted. He had floated the same idea for Mass Ave and Fountain Square but found it wasn't necessary because there will still be opportunities for street performance in those districts, either under special-event permits or in areas that are untouched by the restrictions.

“I had people say, 'I'm actually OK with it as it is now,'” Miller said.

The rules committee still plans to hear public comment Tuesday night, Miller said.

In the meantime, Indianapolis Downtown Inc. has created a map showing all the stretches of sidewalk that would not be affected by the new restrictions. The map shows chunks of unrestricted sidewalk on Monument Circle and Georgia Street, as well as on Maryland Street on the north side of the Indiana Convention Center. Most other busy downtown blocks would be off-limits, though.

Mayor Greg Ballard hoped to ban panhandling in the Mile Square in response to complaints from event and convention planners, but ran into opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union and Democrats. A bipartisan group of councilors including Miller, a Republican, and Lewis, president of the majority-Democratic council, drew up the current proposal after visiting Raleigh, N.C., and San Antonio last year.

Miller said he believes there is enough bipartisan support on the council to pass a new panhandling law, but it won't be by a wide margin.

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