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Finding a Balance for Panhandlers

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- The Cedar Rapids City Council wanted to start a dialogue about what it could potentially do to regulate panhandling while still balancing First Amendment Rights and keeping everyone safe.

The Police Department says someone standing on the side of the road is distracting for drivers. If one decides to give a few dollars, it could back up traffic and easily cause an accident. So about two years ago the city asked the police what they would want to see in a panhandling ordinance.

"What was proposed under the Aggressive Solicitation Ordinance was that this would not be allowed bear controlled intersections," said Cedar Rapids Public Safety Officer Greg Buelow.
That would move panhandlers away from intersections with traffic lights, like the many that they frequent where Highway 380 runs through Cedar Rapids.

It would also let police take action if they're too close to places where people eat out, or near ATM's. The goal is to keep panhandlers away from any place where people would feel threatened being asked for money.

Cedar Rapids City Council Member Susie Weinacht says it went a little too far.

"The reaction was, overwhelmingly, that this was too broad of a brush," said Weinacht.

She says she would be in favor of limiting hours, instead of banning locations all the time. The council voted to send it back to the Public Safety and Use Services Committee, where the language will be tweaked based on the City Council's feedback.

Buelow says it's good to have the discussion and work towards figuring out a way to help officers step in.

"Knowing these police officers, if somebody needs the help, that's what they do everyday. They're in the business of getting people connected to appropriate resources to try to help them," said Buelow.

Weinacht says the City Council is looking to what other cities have on the books regarding panhandlers as a starting spot for compromise in Cedar Rapids.
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