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County Officials Need to Take Measures to Stop Panhandling

Why is it that the Montgomery County Council can take decisive action to outlaw performing circus animals, but it has done little to outlaw an actual scourge on our communities? Isn’t it time the Council did something to stop the panhandling?

A performing elephant is a rarity and soon to be outlawed if Bill 23-17 is approved, but an adult male human juggling in a median in Germantown in hopes of getting a few dollars in handouts is a daily occurrence and police are limited in their ability to stop this behavior.

The juggling panhandler was performing one block from the spot where a female who was panhandling in the median’s on Germantown Road was struck and seriously injured a few years before. It is bad enough that people standing in the street can be a distraction to drivers, now there are some in hopes of a handout. What is next? Panhandlers in clown makeup performing magic tricks? It is time County leaders performed a trick of their own and made panhandlers disappear.

Just a two months ago, 64-years-old Richard Lee Cooper was killed while panhandling on at the intersection of Great Seneca Highway and Middlebrook Road when an SUV lost control coming down the hill on Middlebrook Road from Waring Station Road and struck him as he was standing in the median. Just two blocks from where the juggling act is playing daily.

These are two lives in three years ended or horribly altered because the County allows folks to stand in the medians. Of course, nobody forced them to be panhandling, but nobody stopped them either. Had this been a situation where high school students were struck and injured for being in the medians, the community would be outraged, but because the victims were part of the marginalized population it makes it a little easier to shake your head, call it a shame, shrug, and move on.

In 2012, the Maryland Legislature enacted House Bill 150, which outlawed panhandling in Allegany County. The Bill reads:

“FOR the purpose of prohibiting, in Allegany County, a person from standing, or causing, encouraging, allowing, or petitioning another to stand, in a roadway, median divider, or intersection to solicit money or donations from the occupant of a vehicle, subject to a certain exception; authorizing the governing body of the county or of a municipal corporation in the county to enact a certain permit program to allow individuals who are at least a certain age and representatives of certain organizations who are at least a certain age to solicit money or donations from the occupant of a vehicle by standing in a roadway, median divider, or intersection in the county or municipal corporation; requiring an applicant for a certain permit to submit proof of a certain plan; requiring that an application for a certain permit be effective only for a certain period of time; providing that an individual or a certain organization may obtain only a certain number of a certain permit per calendar year; and generally relating to the solicitation of money from occupants of vehicles in Allegany County.”

Indeed, eight Maryland counties have banned roadway soliciting: Anne Arundel, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Prince George's and Washington. Cecil County issues one-day permits for groups, including fire companies and charities.

All three neighboring counties either ban or require a permit to solicit funds on roadways. Why do Montgomery County officials want to make our County attractive to panhandlers from neighboring counties? Is this what Montgomery County wants to be known for?

According to police officers who deal with the panhandlers in the Germantown area, many are not even from Montgomery County. In fact, many commute down to Germantown every day on the MARC trains to panhandle in Germantown.

The reason for this is that in Frederick County, it is illegal to stand on the median and solicit donations. It carries with it a $70 fine. In Montgomery County, it is NOT illegal to panhandle if you are 18 and stay on the median, but if you step off the median and into the street police can give you a $50 fine for jaywalking.

In January 2017, there were 894 homeless persons in Montgomery County, a decline of nine percent from 2016, according to the Homelessness in Metropolitan Washington annual report— the 2017 Point-in-Time Count of Person Experiencing Homelessness in the region which is a snapshot of the homeless population prepared by The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee. Of course, this is a count at a single point-in-time and the number of homeless is always fluctuating.

Enough with the old excuses. Let’s craft legislation where local groups such as the Montgomery County Firefighters “Fill the Boot” fundraiser would be legal and allowed. Perhaps requiring the permit be obtained 30 days in advance, or require excessive paperwork, or require a deposit of $100 to $300 which would be returned. In Howard County, permits can be purchased for $100 four times per year.

If the Montgomery County Council can craft legislation to protect wild and exotic animals, can’t we find a way to craft legislation to protect humans? Perhaps, it’s time to stop juggling the issue and improve the quality of life for taxpayers?

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