Montgomery County considering bill to ban panhandling at medians

- There is a push in Montgomery County to put an end to panhandling at medians. Some people support the idea while others say it will create more problems than solutions.

Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice has sponsored a bill that would not only make soliciting from medians and roadways illegal, but also require first offenders to be educated on the new law and the dangers of panhandling. Repeat offenders would be fined.

Montgomery County police said four years ago, panhandling was illegal. Since the county did away with the law, two people have been killed.

“Mr. Rice's law is just trying to restore the balance,” said Montgomery County Police Capt. Thomas Didone. “People can solicit from the sidewalks where it is safe, where pedestrians are supposed to be, but not on the center median or in the roadway."

“The affordable housing resources coupled with this type of initiative is key and Councilmembers Rice, [Roger] Berliner, [George] Leventhal and [Marc] Elrich have been supportive of that,” said John Mendez of Bethesda Cares, an outreach group that helps people avoid homelessness. “Most affordable housing initiatives that we have had in Montgomery County, we want the other council members to take note of that example.”

However, opponents said banning panhandling would lead to unpaid fines, court dates and arrests, which would limit their ability to secure housing.

In a letter to Councilmember Rice, the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty said in part, "All of this will show up on future background and credit checks making it much more complicated to secure housing or employment. This litigation will result in the creation of additional legal barriers, many of which cannot be overcome." 

Capt. Didone said this new law would also apply to firefighters who typically collect funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Fill the Boot campaign at busy intersections.

If approved, the new law would take place in October.

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