Ballard plans to strengthen panhandling ordinance

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard wants to ban panhandling in the city's busiest downtown area following long-running complaints from convention officials and city boosters about people begging for money along downtown streets.

Ballard plans to propose the restrictions Friday afternoon during his State of the City address, the city said in a media release previewing the speech. He wants the City-County Council to create a "No Solicitation Zone" spanning a mile-square area of downtown's busiest area.

Panhandling, which is defined as a vocal solicitation for an immediate donation in a public place, is already prohibited in Indianapolis from sunset and sunrise, and at all times in many locations, including bus stops, bank entrances, ATMs or sidewalk cafes.

However, passive solicitation, which involves holding a sign or jingling a cup of change, is not regulated.

Ballard's proposal would ban panhandling and passive solicitation at all times in the heart of downtown and ban panhandling across the rest of the city from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. It would also ban panhandling at all times near building entrances, parking meters, crosswalks, intersections or off-ramps.

The downtown zone would be bordered by North, South, East and West streets.

City officials say studies show only about 1 percent of panhandlers are homeless and they recommend never giving money to panhandlers.

"Most panhandling downtown and at our intersections is a racket and it needs to stop," Ballard said in a prepared statement.

Legal director Ken Falk of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana said Ballard's proposals would violate panhandlers' First Amendment rights, and the ACLU would be prepared to challenge the restrictions.

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