Battle Creek passes ordinance cracking down on panhandling

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Battle Creek has a new ordinance that restricts panhandling and loitering in the city.

In a split vote Tuesday night, the city commission passed the ordinance that among other things:

  • Prohibits remaining idly within 25 feet of an intersection of roads without an official license or permit.
  • Approaching another person in a way that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested.
  • Soliciting money from anyone waiting in line or near building entrances at outdoor seating, public restrooms, ATMs and bus stops.

Citizens voiced their concerns for more than an hour before the vote.  Some said the new ordinance would reflect badly on the city while others argued that the panhandler population already makes the downtown less appealing.

Battle Creek panhandling ordinance meeting
Voters voice their concerns about panhandling ahead of an ordinance vote in Battle Creek. (Sept. 6, 2016)

Downtown business owners pushed for the ordinance, saying their customers were harassed by panhandlers who were aggressive and would not take “go away” as an answer. A survey found 75 percent of city businesses supported the ordinance, according to city staff.

Opponents said the ordinance is immoral and discriminatory toward the poor and homeless and will be a target for costly lawsuits against the city.

The American Civil Liberties Union has already warned the city would not survive a constitutional challenge. Restrictions on panhandling crumbled after the U.S. Supreme Court essentially ruled that broad bans on panhandling violate the Constitution.

City Attorney Jill Steele said the difference with Battle Creek’s ordinance is that it is narrowly tailored with specific restrictions, not the broad bans that have been struck down by the courts.

An amendment to the ordinance calls for the city to look at homelessness and panhandling and to team up with business and service organizations to provide recommendations within nine months to commissioners regarding panhandling issues.

Police Chief Jim Blocker told 24 Hour News 8 the ordinance would be applied with compassion and not to write a bunch of citations.

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