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Kalamazoo commissioners consider new restrictions on begging in public

Nov 3, 2014

Under the proposed amendment, begging from someone on a park bench in Bronson Park would be illegal.
Credit Jacob Enos / Creative Commons

Some residents and business owners in Kalamazoo want tighter restrictions on where people can panhandle. The city says the proposed changes come in response to just a few people who are “aggressive and intrusive” around the Kalamazoo Mall and Bronson Park.

Tonight, commissioners will consider an amendment that outlines the “right to be left alone” – making it illegal to ask for spare change from anyone sitting outside on a restaurant patio or on a bench at a public park.

ACLU attorney Dan Korobkin believes a judge would find the amendment unconstitutional.

“The problem here is there’s a difference between making it illegal to be aggressive or threatening or harass or intimidate people and ordinances that actually make it illegal to just peacefully ask a question, including peacefully ask for spare change or help,” Korobkin said.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a state law that banned begging in public. The court found it was overly broad and violated the right to free speech. Since that ruling, several Michigan cities have made changes to similar ordinances.

Kalamazoo City Attorney Clyde Robinson says he believes the time, place and manner restrictions are constitutional. He says outdoor patios weren't as popular when the ordinance was originally passed, and customers have said they don't want to eat outside at downtown restaurants or Bronson Park if they're constantly being asked for money.

"People are saying 'I don’t want to come downtown because I can’t get away from it," Robinson said.

*This article was updated to include comments from Kalamazoo's attorney.