Charleston City Council votes to block panhandlers from roadsides

Charleston City Council gave initial approval to an ordinance that bans the handing of anything to or from a vehicle in a roadway. It will prohibit panhandlers from the most lucrative spots for begging.

Panhandlers likely are facing a pay cut after the city took a giant step toward banning them from the most lucrative spots for handouts.

Charleston City Council Tuesday voted unanimously to give initial approval to an ordinance that would prohibit anyone — including panhandlers, people collecting money for charities, handing out religious fliers or selling newspapers — from passing items to or from the occupant of a vehicle on a roadway in a traffic lane.

Under the plan, people making a donation, and those accepting it, both would be violating the ordinance, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,092 fine.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the ordinance “addresses a very important public safety concern.” Stepping into traffic is dangerous for the person doing it and for drivers who could be involved in traffic accidents, he said.

If the ordinance ultimately is approved at Council’s August meeting, begging would banned from roadsides.

Panhandlers say roadside spots are the best place to hold up a sign and ask for money because hundreds of cars pass by every hour, especially during rush hour.

They still can ask for money, City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson said, but they have to move off the roadway to a place such as a parking lot. The ordinance was essential was because “we have a situation that is getting more and more dangerous,” she said.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen proposed the ordinance. He said it is based on a plan in Manchester, N.H.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich