Morrisville enacts stricter panhandling rules

It’s going to be harder for people to ask for money on the side of the roads in Morrisville.

After a rising number of complaints to police officers and town officials in recent months, the town voted July 14 to enact new rules regulating panhandlers. Anyone who wants to beg now will be required to obtain a permit from the town that expires every three months.

Panhandlers must keep the permit on them at all times and also wear a reflective vest. They will not be allowed in certain public areas, such as road medians.

Anyone who is found breaking the rules can receive a warning or a civil fine of $25 that will require them to go to court and pay an additional $150 court fee.

“I look forward to enforcing it,” council member Steve Rao said. “I think it’s something we need, and I want to thank the many citizens who have contacted me.”

The new ordinance takes effect July 28. It adds to another panhandling rule the town passed, in 2006, to outlaw “agressive begging” in town limits.

Three residents spoke to the Town Council before the new rules passed, all of them unhappy with the proposal under consideration. Two women said they wanted even stricter rules, while a third woman said the town shouldn’t have the rules at all.

Emima Gigante said she has witnessed situations involving panhandlers that concern her: She almost got into a wreck while avoiding a pandhandler’s loose dog; she saw one man block a street sign with his backpack; and she saw two panhandlers nearly get into a fight.

“It takes away quality from the neighborhood,” she said.

The police also have previously warned of turf wars among the local panhandlers, many of whom are driven into town by people who charge them fees to ask for money.

But Angela Haughan said she frequently gives panhandlers money and never has felt threatened nor witnessed a negative situation. She said the country used to be a nation of generous people.

“I think that’s extremely sad” for Morrisville to make it harder for people to ask for charity, she said.

“If these people are destitute, I think we should make their lives a little easier, not harder,” Haughan said.

The Town Council unanimously approved the ordinance as presented. Officials said they will study the new rules in six months to discuss whether there should be any changes.

“It’s impeding traffic,” said Pat Beauleu, who lives in Cary. She said Morrisville should also ban the panhandlers from bringing chairs or pets.

Mayor Pro Tem Liz Johnson said Haughan makes an important point about helping people. She said she and other town officials want to help those who need money by giving out pamphlets about different organizations and charities in town that help the poor.

Cary, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill have long had similar rules to what Morrisville adopted. The Town of Knightdale recently approved similar rules.

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