Montgomery council favors ban on panhandling
Firefighters say fundraising will decline
The Montgomery County Council wants to ban people from panhandling along county roads rather than adopt a permitting system favored by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
However, the ban, which requires state legislation, could affect public safety organizations that collect donations at local intersections, according to some members of the county's delegation in Annapolis.
Other lawmakers expressed concern that the homeless would not get permits and would risk being assessed fines they could not pay.
"It seems like this would have a very disparate impact," said Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville, who noted that in 35 years of practicing law in the county he had never heard of car accident caused by a panhandler. "We're trying to solve a problem here, but we need to do something that doesn't just put another law on the books."
The issue stems from a Jan. 31 task force report requested by Leggett that recommended that roadside solicitation require a permit. Under county law, panhandling in medians is allowed, but walking into the roadway to do so is not.
But enforcement is inconsistent, said Montgomery County Police Capt. Thomas Didone, director of the traffic division.
"People standing on the side of the road begging is a problem," said Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park, a member of the task force that produced the report.
State legislation is needed to allow the council to ban or regulate the activity. The Montgomery delegation has introduced legislation in the House to allow for permits, and council members now are asking that the bill be amended to allow an outright ban as well.
County spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield said Leggett has not decided whether he would approve of a ban and is still reviewing information from the council.
A delegation subcommittee is expected to discuss the legislation Thursday.
Roadside solicitation is banned outright in seven counties: Anne Arundel, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Prince George's and Washington.
"We are surrounded by a bunch of counties that do not allow panhandling," said Sally Kaplan, a representative from Bethesda Cares and a task force member. "So, we are going to be the panhandling magnet."
Anne Arundel County, the first Maryland county to ban roadside solicitation in 2007, compromised with firefighters and allowed them and other charitable groups to collect money outside local businesses and at area festivals.
Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said officials in Montgomery could work out a similar alternative for some organizations.
Firefighters seek donations annually for the Muscular Dystrophy Association during their annual "fill the boot" fundraiser.
However, Craig Oldershaw, president of the IAFF Local 1563, Anne Arundel County Professional Fire Fighters Association, said Monday that fundraising has plummeted since the local ban took effect.
In 2006, the firefighters union raised $30,000 for the charity, but the most the union has raised since then has been $5,000, he said.
John Sparks, president of the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 1664, said he thinks his union would struggle to raise funds as well.
The group typically raises about $200,000 for charity in three days.
"It's ridiculous," Sparks said of a ban. "We wouldn't bring in near the amount of money we bring in."
Sparks said the union supports a permit system and plans to fight the proposed ban.
Sparks questioned whether the council would replace the amount of the charitable contributions if a ban is implemented.
"I'm sure they aren't offering up any money to replace it," he said.
However, council members said the issue is one of public safety.
"Just because you're a firefighter doesn't mean you're immune from a car hitting you," said Councilman Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown.