MASSILLON — After six weeks of spirited debate and public discussion and comments, City Council agreed to remove a 73-year-old ban on panhandling or public begging in the city.
Council voted 6-3 Monday to lift the restriction, effective immediately. Those voting yes on the issue said they wanted to protect the city from any potential legal liability potential free speech violations.
Other panhandling ordinances in Ohio and nationwide have been deemed unconstitutional — due to free speech violations — by state and federal courts.
“I don’t want to expose citizens to being uncomfortable. But I agree the law (banning panhandling) isn’t constitutional, and we need to get it off our books," Councilman Mike Gregg said just prior to the vote.
Following council’s decision, Councilman Ed Lewis asked that the city Law Department bring forward existing panhandling laws related to trespassing, harassment and menacing.
Lewis said he’d like to see those laws brought forward to council for discussion no later than May 18.
Council members Sarita Cunningham, Jill Creamer and Paul Manson, who voted against removing the ban, said the wanted more time to research panhandling to protect residents on the door-to-door portion of the issue, while protecting the right of panhandlers to exercise free speech.
“I don’t think we’ve had enough time to comment on this,” Manson said. “I don’t feel people should be able to panhandle on private property. Now streets and sidewalks I think are OK.”
Removing the ban allows people to solicit donations in public locations, such as street sides, intersections or parking lots within the city limits. Also, there is no restriction on panhandling from house to house.
Massillon’s law that prohibited begging resulted in 29 citations since 1993, according to Law Director Andrea Scassa. One person has accounted for 14 of those violations.
The last charge came in 2018, she said.
Under the previous law, which was passed in 1946, violators were subject to a minor misdemeanor if caught by police.
Reach Steven at 330-775-1134 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sgrazierINDE