Summit County is softening its proposal to get tough on panhandlers.
Following criticism from some County Council members, the county administration has scrapped an effort to require street beggars to obtain licenses and wear safety vests while soliciting money.
The administration instead is floating a new proposal modeled after a Cincinnati law, which focuses more on preventing harassment by panhandlers, said Jason Dodson, chief of staff for County Executive Russ Pry.
It doesn’t require panhandlers to get a license or wear a vest. It would prohibit soliciting in an aggressive manner, such as touching an individual, telling false stories, begging within 20 feet of ATMs and banks, or begging before 7 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
Panhandlers still would be permitted to stand or sit near the road and seek money from passing motorists.
The Cincinnati law has withstood a court challenge, Dodson said.
The county took up the panhandling issue at the request of Bath Township. Earlier this year, neighboring Fairlawn started requiring beggars to obtain a license because of an increase in panhandling in the Montrose shopping area. Akron also requires panhandlers to be licensed.
Townships cannot approve new laws and sought the county’s help after residents wanted to see the same restrictions in their community. Any county law would be effective in townships only.
County Councilman John Schmidt, who had been highly critical of the previous proposal, said he had yet to read the draft legislation. He said his main objections have been asking people to wear vests and the county being sued “because we trample on people’s constitutional rights.”
The new proposal is less restrictive but still addresses the problem, Councilman Nick Kostandaras said.
Copley Police Chief Michael Mier sent a letter to the council this week urging members to be careful when crafting panhandling legislation. He wrote that the township has successfully dealt with beggars using existing laws.
“I just wish communities like Bath and Fairlawn would have addressed the panhandlers when they first emerged instead of allowing the problem to manifest itself to the degree it did in Montrose,” the chief wrote. “Had they done so, we might not find it necessary to enact new legislation to deal with a problem that might have been addressed with existing state statutes.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.