URBANA — After hours of impassioned monologues from audience members, the city council could take its final look at a proposed aggressive panhandling ordinance — or rather, an "aggressive solicitation" ordinance — when it meets next week.
If the council decides it likes the latest version of the proposal that has evolved during the past month, they could give final approval to the solicitation ordinance when it meets at 7 p.m. on Monday in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St.
The newest changes come after city legal staff substituted "solicitation" for "panhandling" in every reference in the ordinance, which officials have said aims to alleviate fears of aggressive behavior among some panhandlers primarily in southeast Urbana. Police Chief Patrick Connolly said the department has been increasingly receiving calls from worried residents, especially the elderly.
Council members last week suggested the substitution be made after Alderman Robert Lewis, D-Ward 3, suggested the term "panhandling" wrongly places the blame on the poor. The aggressive behavior that the proposal is supposed to deter applies to a wider spectrum of people, he said, not just those seeking small donations.
The term "solicitation," he suggested, will remove the focus on the indigent.
Aside from the wording tweak, the ordinance on which council members will vote on Monday is identical to the proposal they informally supported last week. It would ban all forms of "aggressive solicitation," which the ordinance defines as any panhandling in groups of two or more, blocking someone's path or following them after they have denied an initial request for money, touching that person, using "profane or abusive" language or making any statement or gesture that would imply harm if that person denies a request for money.
The ordinance would also ban all forms of solicitation — aggressive or not — within 20 feet of ATMs or banks, and it would allow officers to issue tickets to solicitors on private property if the property owner has posted "no solicitation" signs.
Offenders would be subject to a $50 fine for their first violation and $165 for subsequent offenses. City officials have said police would issue warnings on a first offense.
Audience members have marched to the microphone to oppose the ordinance as the city council has considered it during the past several weeks, and many of them say the proposal is discriminatory against the poor. A minority of speakers, most of whom say they reside in southeast Urbana, have supported the ordinance.