Atlanta considers cracking down on panhandling

10:50 AM, Sep 5, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- It's been a thorn in Atlanta's side for more than a decade and it's one of the biggest complaints from tourists -- panhandling.

In a work session Wednesday, the city council will discuss adding teeth to existing laws against the practice.

Both the current law and new version have the same rules: panhandling is completely banned in the Downtown Tourism Triangle and around the King Center. It's outlawed everywhere after dark. And aggressive panhandling is also outlawed throughout the city of Atlanta.

Aggressive panhandling is defined as blocking the path, following a person, using profane or abusive language, or touching.

The new law would also make it illegal to make false or misleading solicitations including lying about being from out of town, pretending to be a member of the armed services, pretending to be disabled by using a wheelchair or other prop, using makeup to simulate a deformity, and lying about being homeless.

Last month, Atlanta City Council was planning to focus on making tougher punishments for aggressive panhandling when the solicitor dropped what councilmembers called a "bomb."

"I was really shocked the other week when we found out that the (existing) ordinance isn't even enforceable," said Council Member Michael Julian Bond (Post 1 At Large).

The current law has been impossible to enforce since its very inception in 2005.

"There was almost a culture of silence around this because this issue is so volatile," Bond said.  

So, the new law looks much like the old except for massive changes to the enforcement elements. Police could issue citations, specifically for aggressive panhandling. The judge now has the discretion to to sentence offenders to anything from 30 days of community service to imprisonment for 180 days.

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