Fayette County

Lexington ordinance that bans panhandlers from approaching cars gets first vote

A man held a sign saying “why lie I need a drink” at East High Street and South Limestone. Since Lexington’s ordinance prohibiting panhandling was struck down by the state Supreme Court, the number of panhandlers has ballooned.
A man held a sign saying “why lie I need a drink” at East High Street and South Limestone. Since Lexington’s ordinance prohibiting panhandling was struck down by the state Supreme Court, the number of panhandlers has ballooned. cbertram@herald-leader.com

An ordinance that would ban pedestrians from approaching cars and walking into major intersections in Lexington moved forward Tuesday.

The Urban County Council General Government and Social Services Committee voted 7-0 to pass the ordinance, which prohibits people from being in roadways and medians, bans pedestrians from approaching cars on major roadways, and strengthens the city’s jaywalking ordinance. The ordinance will go to the full council at a council work session May 9.

The Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Ordinance will replace one that was struck down by the state Supreme Court in February. That ruling said the city’s prohibition on begging on public streets ran afoul of the First Amendment, which protects free speech.

The city has worked for months to craft a new ordinance after the Supreme Court decision. The number of people panhandling on Lexington’s streets has skyrocketed since the panhandling ordinance was struck down, Lexington police and council members have said. Many of the people who are panhandling aren’t homeless but are coming from out of town, police have said.

“This is not a silver bullet,” but it will give police a tool, said Council member Kevin Stinnett, who pushed for changes to the ordinance.

Keith Horn, a lawyer for the city, presented the changes to the General Government and Social Services Committee.

“The department of law has looked at ordinances across the United States as well as numerous court decisions,” Horn said.

The ordinance restricts pedestrians from entering the roadway and from standing at major intersections on 75 streets in Lexington. Those streets were picked because of their high traffic count or because they are major federal or state highways, Stinnett said.

Those who violate the new ordinance will face a $100 fine.

During Tuesday’s committee meeting, some council members questioned how those 75 streets were selected.

Cities that implemented similar ordinances that applied to all streets have had those ordinances struck down by the courts because the ordinances were overly broad, Horn said.

Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield said she was concerned that the city didn’t exempt people from waiting at bus stops. She also wondered whether it would affect businesses or charities that sometimes employ or use people who hold signs next to roads to bring people into businesses or to fund-raising events such as car washes.

Lexington officials unveiled a new End Panhandling Now van. The van will pick up homeless people and panhandlers each day and take them to job sites in an effort to reverse a surge in panhandling. They will be paid $9 an hour, higher than the mini

Horn said people are allowed to be on sidewalks. The ordinance prohibits only pedestrians approaching vehicles on major roadways and in medians. The council later voted to amend the ordinance to exempt people waiting for public transportation.

Councilman Fred Brown said he worried that changes to the jaywalking ordinance might go too far. The proposed changes to the jaywalking ordinance state that someone can be cited for jaywalking if they do not cross at a crosswalk, a stop sign or a signaled intersection. The current ordinance is much more lenient.

“I’m concerned about our neighborhoods,” Brown said. “People may want to cross the street to talk to their neighbors.”

He tried to amend the ordinance to exempt neighborhood streets from the changes to the jaywalking ordinance, but that proposed amendment ultimately failed.

The number of pedestrians struck by vehicles has started to creep up in recent years after several years of decline, according to Lexington police data.

Ten pedestrians were killed by cars or trucks in 2016, which tied 2008 as the most deadly year for pedestrians in Lexington. Lexington police data also says that there have been 397 pedestrian-involved vehicle collisions since 2015. Of those, the vast majority — 344 — resulted in injuries.

Dennis Champion, a longtime panhandler who successfully challenged the city’s restriction on begging on public streets, has been hit by vehicles in the past, city officials have said.

The Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Ordinance is one of many initiatives the city is using to deal with the increase in panhandling. Last week, Mayor Jim Gray announced a new jobs program for the homeless and panhandlers. The city will use a van to pick up panhandlers each morning and pay them $9 an hour for work on city beautification and other projects. The program begins May 8.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray addressed a rise in panhandling in Lexington.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

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