EDITORIAL: Panhandling deal should be OK’d

IBJ Staff
November 23, 2013
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IBJ Editorial

The City-County Council would be well advised to adopt panhandling-ordinance changes passed Nov. 19 by the Rules and Public Policy Committee. The revisions could help both convention and local business. And if police resist enforcing it heavy-handedly, the city would benefit without trampling on constitutional rights.

The committee passed a measure that, among other changes, greatly restricts the areas where asking for money, and even passive solicitation, is allowed. But it wisely steers clear of controversial provisions adopted in some other cities—provisions that have drawn accusations of free-speech and civil-liberties violations.

The most significant changes to the Indianapolis law would:

• Broaden the panhandling barrier radius—to a 50-foot circle around sidewalk cafes, building entrances, ATMs, parking meters, bus stops and the like, from the previous 20 feet.

• Make passive solicitation and street performers subject to the same restrictions as panhandling, which is defined as requesting a donation in person in a public place.

The tighter restrictions would, in essence, ban panhandling from great sections of downtown. A few blocks in the Mile Square are parking-meter-free, and panhandlers would likely jockey for prime spots on Monument Circle. But most downtown sidewalks are within 50 feet of a space where financial transactions take place, thereby making them banned zones for panhandling.

The updates are modeled after the law San Antonio adopted two years ago in reaction to complaints about excessive panhandling on its scenic but dense and narrow River Walk—its signature tourism destination and one of the most-visited attractions in Texas.

Downtown density exacerbates Indianapolis’ panhandling problem. In fact, VisitIndy, Indianapolis’ tourism arm, says the city has lost 10 meetings worth a total of $6 million in visitor spending the last two years because of complaints that panhandling is more acute in Indianapolis than in other convention cities.

Raleigh, N.C., has been particularly aggressive in addressing panhandling, in 2011 going so far as to require panhandlers to register for a free permit. That allows the city to do criminal background checks on applicants, and to distribute information about services for poor and homeless residents.

But that law has invited criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union and others, who charge that requiring a permit restricts free speech. Some Indianapolis city councilors considered including a similar provision in the local update, but the revisions the Rules and Public Policy Committee passed wisely avoided any such language.

The proposed changes strike a fair balance between protecting the rights of citizens to walk and conduct business in public safely and securely with the rights of citizens to seek donations in public places. The full council should make the revisions law when the measure comes up for final vote Dec. 9.•

To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.


  • Don't limit it to downtown
    It’s rampant throughout the city; not just downtown. I’ve had panhandlers come up to my car and knock on the window at 29th/30th and Meridian, frankly startling me and scaring my children. Drive up Keystone and they are on the corners, especially by Glendale. This is getting out of hand.
  • Not quite right
    Pan handlers can be a pain in the ass and cause discomfort to some, but street performers enhance the cultural life of a city. Banning street performers will enhance our reputation as plain vanilla India-no-place.
  • A Good Step Forward
    Every licensed business is regulated while paying taxes so why shouldn't the "under the table" people be also? As for permits many cities require that for door-to-door soliciting; how about Indianapolis?

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  1. I took Bruce's comments to highlight a glaring issue when it comes to a state's image, and therefore its overall branding. An example is Michigan vs. Indiana. Michigan has done an excellent job of following through on its branding strategy around "Pure Michigan", even down to the detail of the rest stops. Since a state's branding is often targeted to visitors, it makes sense that rest stops, being that point of first impression, should be significant. It is clear that Indiana doesn't care as much about the impression it gives visitors even though our branding as the Crossroads of America does place importance on travel. Bruce's point is quite logical and accurate.

  2. I appreciated the article. I guess I have become so accustomed to making my "pit stops" at places where I can ALSO get gasoline and something hot to eat, that I hardly even notice public rest stops anymore. That said, I do concur with the rationale that our rest stops (if we are to have them at all) can and should be both fiscally-responsible AND designed to make a positive impression about our state.

  3. I don't know about the rest of you but I only stop at these places for one reason, and it's not to picnic. I move trucks for dealers and have been to rest areas in most all 48 lower states. Some of ours need upgrading no doubt. Many states rest areas are much worse than ours. In the rest area on I-70 just past Richmond truckers have to hike about a quarter of a mile. When I stop I;m generally in a bit of a hurry. Convenience,not beauty, is a primary concern.

  4. Community Hospital is the only system to not have layoffs? That is not true. Because I was one of the people who was laid off from East. And all of the LPN's have been laid off. Just because their layoffs were not announced or done all together does not mean people did not lose their jobs. They cherry-picked people from departments one by one. But you add them all up and it's several hundred. And East has had a dramatic drop I in patient beds from 800 to around 125. I know because I worked there for 30 years.

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