Board may consider controversial begging ordinance next week

FLINT TWP. — After months of discussion and tweaking, a controversial proposed Begging and Soliciting

Ordinance may be ready for township board consideration at its Monday, Dec. 1 meeting, according to Township Supervisor Karyn Miller.

But Miller said she hopes that people first read and understand what is being proposed. The board started out with one plan, that passed first reading July 7, but after public outcry postponed adoption so that an advisory committee could be formed to review it and perhaps come up with a better plan.

Other communities are reportedly waiting and watching to see how Flint Township legally handles the growing problem of street corner beggars which some see as a blemish on the community’s image. Findings of the Begging and Soliciting Committee were presented at Flint Township’s October 20 meeting which recommended changes.

The original proposed ordinance set limits on street begging that impacted legitimate charities such as the Old Newsboys. In fact, Chris Hamilton, executive director of Old Newsboys, served on the 13-member committee to safeguard its interests.

The committee recommended that the board scrap the first proposed ordinance, which also met opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, and replace it with ordinances that focus on public safety.

One of the committee’s findings was that a state law – the Michigan Vehicle Code – already exists that prohibits blocking or impeding traffic on public roads, without permission. It served as a basis for a revised ordinance prohibiting giving or receiving money or anything else from a vehicle that is in traffic.

The proposed replacement ordinance reads, in part, as follows:

The Charter Township of Flint … hereby ordains:

It shall be unlawful for any person, without authority to receive or to attempt to receive money or any other object from an occupant of a motor vehicles that is operating on a public street, provided, however, this subsection shall not apply to services rendered in connection with services supplied by emergency responders or repairs requested by an occupant of the motor vehicle.

It shall be unlawful for any person not a passenger in a motor vehicle, without authority to give or attempt to give money or any other object or thing to an occupant of a motor vehicle that is operating on a public street (same exception as above).

Violations are a municipal civil infraction and carry fines up to $500 plus costs.

Miller stressed that the new language focuses strictly on safety issues and does not impede freedom of speech which has been the basis of legal challenges to anti-begging ordinances in other Michigan municipalities. The courts ruled that such ordinances cannot single out any group or individual but must apply equally to everyone.

What remains uncertain and likely to be debated at next week’s board meeting is who has authority to grant permission for street soliciting. Township streets in question are under the jurisdiction of the Genesee County Road Commission, Miller said.

A second proposed replacement ordinance would authorize township Code Enforcement Officers to request identification from panhandlers observed in violation of the new ordinance.

The committee also made recommendations for alternate ways to help needy people who could no longer legally accept money from vehicles in traffic.

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