Concord City Council passes ordinance forbidding motorists, pedestrians to exchange items
Panhandling is no longer permitted along roads and intersections in Concord.
But the ordinance passed unanimously by the city council last night does not contain the words panhandling or solicitation. It prevents anyone from exchanging items with people in cars that are in the roadway.
Police Chief John Duval said he is concerned with public safety. It’s dangerous for motorists and pedestrians when cars stop to give money to panhandlers, he said.
“We’re trying to stop that behavior going on in our roadways,” said City Solicitor Jim Kennedy.
The violation-level offense carries a maximum fine of $500. Motorists could not be found in violation of the ordinance, Kennedy said; only the person standing outside the car would be fined.
The council first considered ordinances to limit panhandling in February.
A first draft would have banned “aggressive panhandling” – touching, following or intimidating people to solicit money – as well as soliciting money from people in cars, at bus stops and near banks. That ordinance would have made violations a misdemeanor-level offense, with a sentence of up to 90 days in jail by the third offense.
After that proposal drew opposition from homeless advocates, the city’s legal department presented a compromise: A second version of the ordinance would have banned anyone from soliciting money in intersections and along roadways. But that ordinance also drew concern at the February city council meeting, where several people testified about its limits on First Amendment rights.
The city council asked Kennedy and Duval to work with the concerned advocates and return with another proposal.
Devon Chaffee, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, thanked city officials last night for “really comprehending especially the constitutional issues that were at stake and taking the time to think those through.”
Chaffee spoke before the council in February and warned that the other two ordinances would limit free speech.
The ordinance approved last night does not regulate types of speech, Kennedy said. It would ban panhandling, but also lemonade stands and events such as firefighters’ fundraisers. It does have exceptions for police officers performing official duties and emergency situations.
“Of course we will be watching . . . to see how it’s implemented,” Chaffee said. “Of course we do have some concerns with the $500 maximum fine.”
Kennedy said judges would base fines on a person’s ability to pay.
Kevin Curdie, a Concord resident, said he supported the ordinance. But he remains concerned about aggressive panhandling, especially after hearing so many people testify at public hearings about the rights of panhandlers.
“I just wonder why nobody really seems to be interested in my right or anybody else who’s traveling in downtown not to be infringed upon,” Curdie said. “I’d like to walk the streets without being, as I call it, harassed.”
Councilor Keith Nyhan said he shares the same concerns.
“This is a first step but not a final step,” he said. “There’s more to be done in curbing what I consider to be aggressive panhandling.”
Councilor Fred Keach said he supported the ordinance, but it does not address his broader concerns about panhandling and homelessness.
“There are some underlying problems in terms of mental health (and) substance abuse that’s the real issue,” Keach said.