Fung Leads Effort to Improve Panhandling Safety - Cranston Passes Ordinance

Thursday, February 16, 2017


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Fung leads effort

The effort to control panhandling and other activities relating to passing things in and out of cars along roadsides passed in Cranston Wednesday night by a 5 to 4 margin along party lines.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung originally proposed a “road safety ordinance” in October, modeled after a proposal put forth by former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino that was upheld by the courts in another state, but in the midst of a re-election campaign Democrats on the Council defeated the effort.

“I'm glad the majority members of the City Council had Public safety in mind and passed this ordinance tonight.  I look forward to signing it to protect all individuals in our busy intersections and prevent an accident from happening,” Fung told GoLocal on Wednesday night.

The ordinance, however, had seen opponents turn out in force in Cranston. 

“We listened to concerns raised by the ACLU and members of the public at prior hearings and I'm confident this narrowly tailored ordinance will withstand any legal challenge and does not infringe upon anyone's constitutional right," said Fung.

After learning of the passage of the ordinance in Cranston, Paolino told GoLocal, "Mayor Fung and the Cranston city council showed good judgment and common sense by passing this ordinance. This is a safety issue and Cranston sided with safety. I hope Providence will follow Cranston in passing a similar ordinance."

"If not, Providence will be known as the capital city of panhandling and that's not what we should be promoting. It's only a matter of time that someone is going to get hurt while standing in the middle of such streets as Broad Street, North Main Street and the highway exit ramps. I urge Mayor Elorza and the Providence City Council to pass this ordinance for a safer city," said Paolino.

The genesis of the effort was started by Paolino in Providence and efforts were also made in Newport, but both of those cities have failed to pass the ordinance.

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Panhandling in Providence

As GoLocal Prov wrote in October: 

In mid-September, former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino unveiled an ambitious ordinance to address panhandling in the City of Providence that would prohibit “distribution to occupants of vehicles,” making it illegal to exchange money — or goods or services — between the passengers of a car and someone soliciting on the street. 

"There are underlying challenges such as unemployment, homelessness, and the need for mental health treatment that are associated with panhandling.  Many of those issues must be addressed on a statewide and national level, but we will continue to bring jobs to Cranston to provide greater opportunity and take responsible measures such as the proposed ordinance to protect the safety of our citizen," said Fung. The ordinance is sponsored by Fung and eight out of the nine members of the City Council in Cranston.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has repeatedly refused to endorse the legislation and instead has proposed a plan focused on “giving meters” — that allow people to donate to the homeless via a a special parking meter. 

“We believe we have an ordinance that we think is constitutional, and has been done elsewhere in the country,” Paolino told at the unveiling of the ordinance. “It would be that there is no exchange of money between an auto and someone on the street.  That's a safety problem, not just panhandling. And that takes care of prostitution, drugs, panhandling, but it also takes out the firefighters and Little Leaguers asking for money on the street."

Stands Up to Federal Court Review

The proposed Paolino ordinance, which would prohibit exchanges between persons in the street and those in vehicles, was modeled on one that had been challenged by the Ku Klux Klan in Missouri -- which a federal district court ultimately upheld, learned.

“In late February, a federal district court upheld the City of Desloge, Missouri’s prohibition on persons entering into the public right-of-way for the purpose distributing anything to the occupant of a vehicle….this decision is the latest in a case that was originally filed by the Ku Klux Klan against the City of Desloge in 2012 challenging the city’s ordinances regarding distribution of leaflets and pamphlets in public right-of-ways,” wrote Brian Connolly for the “Rocky Mountain Sign Law Blog.”

“The Ku Klux Klan filed the suit claiming the group's rights were infringed upon when handing out literature to people in the streets of Desloge at a four-way intersection in 2013. Desloge ordinance prohibits pedestrians from entering the roadway for solicitation purposes or distribution of flyers to help keep pedestrians and motorists safe," KFVS had earlier reported, 

While Desloge, Missouri saw a legal battle to uphold the ordinance, Charleston, South Carolina passed a similar ban last year, and according to counsel, has seen no legal challenges. 

“We were having [instances] where people were having accidents in a couple of a locations -- cars not going at green lights, rear ended, that type of thing,” Janie Borden, who serves as legal counsel for Charleston, told GoLocal on Thursday. “So we went ahead and passed that ordinance.”

“It went through pretty easily. We still have panhandling [in the city],” said Borden. “That [ordinance] is just for intersections and thoroughfares.”

Steve Brown with the Rhode Island ACLU, who released a statement following the ordinance unveiling this week, said that he “may very well challenge it” in Providence. 

“It's too early to say. And one court decision in Missouri doesn’t determine whether a statute is constitutional or not,” said Brown. “And it depends on factual issues — it may have been that [in] Missouri, they documented the safety issues. We would argue safety is an subterfuge for an ulterior motive.”


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