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Mayor Reed pleased with compromised panhandling ordinance

Atlanta mayor says Monday's 14-0 unanimously approved ordinance by the Atlanta City Council is “going to help us connect people who need help with service providers."

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Monday that he was pleased with a compromised panhandling ordinance, which was unanimously approved by the Atlanta City Council Monday night, that will allow the City to regulate aggressive monetary solicitation across the entire city.

The mayor indicated it represented the right balance between tough enforcement and offering humane services to those who need it including the homeless.

Speaking to a pair of news outlets including MidtownPatch during an event at Turner Broadcasting, the mayor said city officials would now be better able to evaluate those arrested in an effort to “determine what is going on with that person’s life that causes them to be arrested.”

The substitute ordinance, sponsored by Council Members Keisha Lance Bottoms, District 11, and Michael J. Bond, Post 1 At-Large, expands the definition of aggressive solicitation by prohibiting someone from continuing to ask for money after he or she has been told “no.”

It represents a compromise between the mayor and city council after an amendment to the city’s commercial solicitation ordinance was vetoed by Reed last month. That amendment, as proposed by Bond, called for up to 180 days in jail upon conviction of a first offense for an aggressive panhandling violation.

Under the compromise ordinance, upon first conviction, a violator could be sentenced to the performance of up to thirty (30 days) of community service.

A second conviction for aggressive panhandling will require the violator to serve a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail. Upon the third or future convictions, the violator will be required to serve a mandatory minimum of 90 days in jail.

The judicial system would have discretion in sentencing and social services options will be available.

“It’s going to help us connect people who need help with service providers,’’ Reed said. “Right now, there’s really no enforcement, but even if there were, the only thing that would happen is that person would be put in jail. And they very well may need more than that.

“They may just need a bus ticket home; they may need to just be reconnected with their family. I think we ought to know that so that’s why I think this is better.”

Bottoms said in a news release, “This is not a heartless piece of legislation. A judge will still have the discretion in sentencing and to make available assistance for those in true need of social services.”

Added Bond: “This legislation protects our citizens from those wolves who - to the detriment of those truly in need - cloak themselves in sheep’s clothing. For those who need it, they will be able to obtain the help and services they so desperately require.”

Supporters say the new legislation combines the successful elements of the City’s previous panhandling ordinances and adds provisions that make it relevant to today’s circumstances. For example:

• Like the 1996 and 2005 commercial solicitation laws, the pending legislation outlaws monetary solicitation within 15 feet of locations where people feel intimidated when someone asks them for money, such as at an ATM machine or at a parking lot pay box.

• Like the 1996 but unlike the 2005 commercial solicitation laws, the pending legislation makes it illegal to monetarily solicit someone who is within 15 feet of a building entrance or exit, or is standing in line to enter a building or event facility.

• The legislation re-defines monetary solicitation so that it applies to all commercial solicitation performed by anyone. This ordinance does not target specific types of commercial solicitation performed by certain city residents.

• The legislation applies equally throughout the city. There are no special provisions for tourist areas.

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