The Chehalis City Council has passed an ordinance that prohibits panhandling in the city’s busiest retail district, starting Wednesday.
The action came last week after members of the city council received complaints from residents about the “serious public harm caused by panhandlers and person(s) engaged in coercive and aggressive solicitation,” according to city documents.
The approved ordinance will essentially prohibit panhandling on Louisiana Avenue from Kmart to I-5 Toyota (within 300 feet of the entrance of any present or future businesses); within 300 feet of the Chamber Way and National Avenue intersection, down to the Chamber Way and Louisiana Avenue intersection; on all of the city’s highway on- and off-ramps; within 25 feet of any business entrance; directed at a person’s parked car or anyone getting into or out of their car; and at night.
The ordinance was passed unanimously, although councilors Tony Ketchum and Chad Taylor were absent.
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Several of the councilors expressed concerns over panhandlers intimidating people as they were loading or unloading their cars.
“You’re a lady or man loading your car with groceries at night and to have somebody come up to you – it’s gotta be intimidating,” Councilor Bob Spahr said.
“I almost hit a guy,” Councilor Isaac Pope said. “He walked up behind me and I turned and there he was right in my face.”
Dawes expressed concern that the panhandlers might just move to another area. Chehalis Police Chief Glenn Schaffer said the ordinance had to be specific because panhandling is a constitutionally protected behavior and it cannot be banned outright.
“The problem we have now is if they come within 25 feet of you, the people can’t do anything about it,” Spahr said. “…It’s not going to stop people from doing that kind of thing but it gives us a little teeth (so) we can stop them if we catch them.”
It also bans “coercive solicitation” which is defined as “persistent, encroaching, false or threatening manner of asking, begging, requesting or pleading made in person, orally or in a written or printed manner” anywhere within the city limits.
The penalties would start as a civil infraction punishable with fines of up to $250. The second infractions, as well as any additional instances, would be a misdemeanor punishable with by a fine of as much as $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail.
The ordinance is similar to one passed by the city of Centralia last year. According to city documents, Chehalis has seen an increase in panhandlers and an increase in the number of complaints from business owners and patrons. The documents also say the panhandlers are a traffic hazard and leave litter along the road.
Centralia’s ordinance prohibits panhandling at on- and off-ramps, certain busy intersections, ATMs and fuel pumps, and bans aggressive begging.