Cedar Rapids panhandling ordinance passes first reading

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Beggars on Blairs Ferry Road will soon be a thing of the past.

A new ordinance, approved unanimously by the City Council Wednesday night, would outlaw panhandling on the city’s right of way, or soliciting money from anyone in a motor vehicle.

The new ordinance will apply even to firefighters raising money with boots in the street for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Aggressive panhandling would also be forbidden. Beggars who won’t take no for an answer, touch the people they ask for money, block their way or hang out near banks or ATMs will be in violation of the ordinance, guilty of a misdemeanor, and likely fined.

The ordinance is meant to improve safety on busy roads, and protect citizens from intimidation, Police Chief Greg Graham said.

“Some of our robberies have started as panhandling,” Graham said.

The ordinance must be read publicly twice more before it becomes law.

Mary Tyler, of southwest Cedar Rapids, whose brother panhandles because he’s missing a leg, asked the City Council to consider permitting some panhandlers who have no choice but to beg.

Her brother, Michael Munro, stands with a sign that reads “Need Help” on Blairs Ferry Road, Tyler said. He was out-of-state visiting family and couldn’t attend the meeting, so she spoke on his behalf.

“This is his only way to make money and pay the bills,” Tyler said.

During the meeting, Tyler met with city housing staff to talk about other options for her brother.

The Iowa City Council enacted similar limits on panhandling in 2008.

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