Ordinance banning aggressive begging downtown passes first vote

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CORRECTED: This article has been corrected to read that the panhandling ordinance has not yet gone into effect.

Tuesday the Commission passed a new ordinance banning people from aggressive begging downtown. If passed at the next Commission meeting, the ordinance will go into effect.

It’s been talked about for some time.

“I for one am for the rights of all people, but a person does not have the right to interrupt my dinner, my stroll with my family, and aggressively solicit money, which is exactly what they are doing,” says commissioner Andy Cheek.

Under this new ordinance, it would be a criminal offense to panhandle in an aggressive or intimidating way.

Those who do will get a warning at first, then they'll be fined, and then violators could face jail time.

“To put them off the streets is not going to solve the problem because when you take one off the street, another one will come,” says commissioner Calvin Holland.

Commissioners went back and forth debating whether the law violated free speech and, if passed, whether it needed to be extended to include areas beyond downtown.

“My point is that I don’t know if we need to make it downtown or West Augusta or South Augusta, we need to make it all of Augusta-Richmond County,” says commissioner Don Grantham.

The ordinance was extended to include the Armstrong Galleria.

Marion Williams was the only commissioner who voted no to the proposal...and he says there may be some major repercussions if it goes into effect.

“I think incarceration or fining is going to cause additional problems. If a man ain’t got no money, you are going to keep him in jail much longer. The sheriff is going to complain about overcrowding, then we got to build another jail, then we got to feed them, you can can’t just put them on the floor, it’s a snowball effect,” says commissioner Marion Williams.

Several commissioners say they want to eventually amend the ordinance to ban panhandling in all of Augusta.

The ordinance will be read again at the next Commission meeting. If it passes the second vote, it will go into effect immediately.

We want to know what you think.

Do you think panhandling is a problem in downtown Augusta? Take our online poll. You can say "Yes", "No", or "Not Sure".