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Rockwood focuses on panhandlers

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By Cindy Simpson

Some visitors to Rockwood’s downtown can barely get out of their vehicles before someone asks them for money.
Rockwood City Councilwoman Peggy Evans said she’s noticed an increase in panhandling recently and suggested an ordinance to restrict it.
It passed on first reading Monday.
“We’ve had numerous incidents downtown where individuals go into the stores and ask employees for money. We had them also on the steps of the post office, up and down the streets and in front of the restaurants. We have a lot of people coming through town ... the minute their feet hit the pavement they were asked for money,” Evans said.
She believes it puts Rockwood in a bad light.
Attorney Greg Leffew told officials that courts have ruled a city cannot completely ban panhandling.
 “Panhandling involves the expression of speech protected by the First Amendment,” he wrote in a letter to the council. “However, the City can regulate the time, manner and place of panhandling.”
The ordinance defines panhandling as “any solicitation made in person requesting immediate donation of money. Purchase of an item for an amount far exceeding its value, under circumstances where a reasonable person would understand that the purchase is in substance a donation, is a donation for the purpose of this chapter.”
Panhandling is not considered passively standing or sitting while displaying a sign asking for donations.
Panhandling, under the ordinance, would be prohibited in the following places: any bus stop or train stop; any public transportation vehicle or facility; in a motor vehicle that is parked or stopped on a public street or alley; in the sidewalk dining area of a restaurant; within 20 feet of an automated teller machine or the entrance to a bank, credit union or lending institution; on private property unless the panhandler has the owner’s permission; inside any commercial business that has a posted sign prohibiting panhandling or solicitation; at Rockwood Municipal Airport and at public parks, golf courses, schools and playgrounds.
Panhandling can only be done during the daytime.