Mayor's proposed panhandling crackdown introduced to City-County Council

Measure could face Council, ACLU opposition

INDIANAPOLIS - Indianapolis is one step closer to a much more aggressive restriction on panhandling, with a crackdown ordinance in the hands of the City-County Council.

The proposal -- which had its first reading at the council's meeting Monday night -- would ban all panhandling within the downtown square mile near Lucas Oil Stadium and Victory Field, and it would prohibit panhandling in the entire city between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Mayor Greg Ballard's administration says that 10 conventions in the past two years have not returned to Indianapolis because of panhandling.

"So this is having a definite impact worth tens of millions of dollars in visitor spending that is not coming to our city," said Marc Lotter, a spokesman for Ballard's office.

Downtown merchants and the organization that binds them together have also lobbied hard for a ban on panhandling, and a restrictive ordinance gives the city and the police a way to get the issue under control.

"People stay away from shopping downtown or may stay away from events because they don't feel safe, and the economic impact of that, that's hard to measure," said Fred Laughlin, with Indianapolis Downtown Inc.

Steve Kerr, with Wheeler Mission, said for the most part, panhandling is a scam, and he supports the mayor's proposal.

"All those funds going to panhandling are being taken away from people who need it the most," Kerr said.

The ordinance might be a tough sell on the council, though. Some members said they wonder why a tougher stand is needed when the city doesn't enforce panhandling regulations already on the books.

"We've had graffiti ordinances, we've had panhandling ordinances we've tweaked them," said Mary Moriarty Adams, D-17th District. "The issue becomes police enforcement. We don't have enough police officers to enforce the existing laws on the books."

If the ordinance passes the council, it's expected to run into trouble with the Indiana American Civil Liberties Union, which will likely challenge the measure in court.

"Panhandling, asking people for a contribution, is protected by the First Amendment, the same way a Girl Scout can ask for contributions," said Ken Falk, with ACLU of Indiana.

The city says the ordinance is modeled after panhandling ordinances that have withstood legal challenges in higher courts.

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