Oklahoma City panhandlers no longer allowed on medians

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Updated Dec. 8: The Oklahoma City City Council has passed the revised panhandling ordinance, meaning panhandlers will no longer be allowed on most medians.

"This is a small piece of a much bigger puzzle," said Ward 6 Councilmember Meg Salyer. "The ordinance before us today is not a panhandling ordinance. It's a median safety ordinance."

Several members of the council voiced their support, citing the October death of a man who was hit by a car.  Members of council say he was a known panhandler.

A number of organizations that work with the homeless spoke out against the ordinance Tuesday.

"If we do not reach out and try to help them, they will move into parking lots," said Becky Van Poole, with Catholic Charities. "We're just moving the problem instead of trying to address the problem."

The ACLU, which opposes the ordinance and threatened a lawsuit over the original version, said in a statement it is evaluating its next steps.

“All options are on the table right now,” said ACLU Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel said. “We will be monitoring closely how the ordinance is implemented and enforced. We have serious concerns that the city of Oklahoma City can enforce this ordinance and still comply with the 1st and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution.”

Some councilmembers floated the idea of giving the organizations six months to try solving the problem on their own, but supporters of the ordinance said there was no time to waste when public safety is at risk.

OKLAHOMA CITY - An amended version of an ordinance that would keep panhandlers and others off city medians is on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, more than a month after council members opted to defer and revisit the measure.

The new proposal exempts medians that are 30 feet wide, located more than 200 feet away from any intersection or contain benches or other features designed for public use.

Intersections that are designated on public trails or public parks would also be exempt from the law.

Another amendment would limit the penalty for violators to $100.

That punishment was originally set at a maximum of a $500 fine and court costs.

The original ordinance prohibited anyone from standing in the medians.

Sixth Ward Councilmember Meg Salyer brought the proposal forward after she said she received numerous safety complaints from Oklahoma City citizens.

Panhandling would still be allowed on the sides of streets and sidewalks.

The superintendent of Millwood Public Schools has been worried about panhandlers harassing her students on the way to school.

Members of the city council insist the ordinance is aimed at public safety and is not designed to limit free speech, but the original idea received plenty of opposition from advocates for the homeless.

At a recent city council meeting, opponents used the bulk of an hour-long public comment session to rail against the ordinance, worried the ordinance could push people in need into homelessness.

Firefighters and members of the Muscular Dystrophy Association said they would be hurt by the ordinance too, during the popular Fill the Boot campaigns.

The revised ordinance is scheduled for a final hearing Tuesday, at which point the city council could vote it into law.

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