Proposed panhandling ordinance

By: Jonathan Martin
By: Jonathan Martin

Some city leaders are looking to crack down on panhandling in Augusta.

A new ordinance before the Augusta Commission could make it illegal to beg for money in the downtown area.

Maybe it’s happened to you? You're walking downtown and someone stops and asks you for money.

Some say it happens too much here on Broad Street.

If a new ordinance passes, some beggars could face fines and even jail time.

Meet Crystal Booker. She's been homeless for six years, and spends most of her time sitting on Broad Street.

“Homelessness…I’d rather be homeless any day, because I’ve met so many good people,” says Booker.

Though she says she has never begged anyone for money, she's upset that a law could ban panhandlers from downtown.

First, because she says it violates freedom of speech, and second, because she feels panhandling isn't a problem.

“They don’t have them in Augusta,” she says. “I ain’t never seen nobody panhandle.”

But downtown business owners like Barry Blackston say it’s all too common.

“Because they do loiter, they'll stay right around a storefront,” Blackston says. “Whichever storefront is doing the most business, they are right on the fringe of it.”

If passed by the Augusta Commission, a new ordinance would ban aggressive or intimidating begging on all streets and sidewalks on and around Broad Street.

It would make panhandling a criminal offense resulting in fines and jail time, mirroring an ordinance passed in Atlanta last year.

“Augusta is trying to be so much like Atlanta and Atlanta is not where it’s supposed to be,” Booker says.

And there are some downtown store owners who agree that the ordinance would be a little premature.

I've never seen a situation where a person approaches somebody and it becomes an aggressive situation,” says Kerry McCollum, a store owner.

Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver says, “It is an issue, panhandling is.”

Mayor Copenhaver says panhandling is hurting Augusta’s economic development.

That's why he is supporting the proposal but says he welcomes other views.

“We will review it tomorrow and discuss it tomorrow and if people have concerns. I'm sure they'll be at the meeting tomorrow to voice them,” says Copenhaver.

“I'm glad they’re doing something to address it,” says Blackston.

“The blockheads, when they get into certain positions in life, they forget about their own people,” Booker says.

This proposed ordinance will go before the Augusta Commission tomorrow.

It will need six votes to pass.

Austin, Texas and Cincinnati, Ohio are two of the cities News 12 found whose panhandling ordinances were ruled a violation of free speech.

Mayor Copenhaver says Augusta’s law would be very similar to Atlanta’s, which still stands.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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