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New panhandling ordinance would push solicitors farther from certain areas

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Weeks after a controversial ordinance removed panhandlers and other people from most city medians, a new ordinance will be introduced at the Oklahoma City Council meeting that is designed to push solicitors farther away from certain outdoor areas.

The ordinance, which is authored by 7th Ward Councilman John Pettis and 8th Ward Councilman Mark Stonecipher, would:

  • Prohibit panhandling within 50 feet of a school bus stop
  • Prohibit panhandling within 50 feet of any land owned by a public or private school and used for educating elementary school children
  • Expand the prohibited panhandling area from 20 feet to 50 feet near the outdoor seating area of any cafe, restaurant or other business, ATM, mass transit, public toilet or payphone

"My concern is that children are going out of their way to not interact with the panhandlers and therefore cross the street in unsafe places," said Cecilia Robinson-Woods, the superintendent at Millwood Public Schools.

Robinson-Woods said she's noted a problem near her schools since August, when parents and students began to complain of panhandlers near bus stops.

And, though she said no one has had any interaction with those solicitors, she's worried about the future as the area continues to develop and grow.

"If we start to look like Penn and Memorial where there's one on every single corner and I have children passing through that, that's a concern for me," she said.

Members of the city council voiced their concerns too, worried expanding the already-panhandler-free zones is too drastic a step, particularly after pushing solicitors off city medians.

"We talked a lot about moving folks from dangerous medians in the middle of our streets but continuing to have options for people like the Curbside Chronicle to sell their magazines on sidewalks," said 6th Ward Councilwoman Meg Salyer, who authored the controversial median ordinance. "That's where we've just directed people to."

Councilman Pettis told the council that expanding the panhandler-free zones to 50 feet had the blessing of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has largely opposed the panhandling measures.

But, in a statement sent to NewsChannel 4, the ACLU denied endorsing any of what it described as "anti-panhandling ordinances."

“Over the course of this debate, we have reviewed hypothetical alternatives to the language that was passed by the council in December,” said ACLU Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel. “At that time, we expressed our thoughts. We have not endorsed any language that was proposed at the council’s Tuesday, January 19, meeting.”

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Tues., Jan. 26.

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