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September 4, 2013

City repeals longstanding ban on begging

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM — During last week’s meeting, the Birmingham City Commission voted to repeal the city’s begging ordinance, which has prohibited begging in public places since 1963.

City Attorney Tim Currier explained during the meeting that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently that Michigan’s ban on begging was unconstitutional as it should be considered a First Amendment right. In response, Currier suggested that the commissioners repeal the city’s own ban on begging.

“Begging is a right of free speech. But stopping you, touching you in any fashion or doing those sort of things becomes a different violation that is not protected by free speech and can connote disorderly conduct or assault,” Currier explained. “Somebody sitting on the side of the street asking for money because they want to eat is completely protected, as long as they don’t interfere with you.”

The ordinance was repealed in a unanimous vote, with the exception of commissioners Rackeline Hoff and Scott Moore, who were absent.

Commissioner Gordon Rinschler noted that he wanted residents to be made aware that while the commission was voting to repeal the begging ordinance, residents shouldn’t feel as though they should have to endure inappropriate behavior.

“(We should have) some communication to the residents about what their actions should be; what should they do. What we don’t want to see is that we eliminated the begging ordinance, you just have to put up with that, if circumstances that Tim described happen,” said Rinschler.

In a prepared statement released by the city Aug. 28, Birmingham Police Chief Don Studt reminded residents that they should call police if they feel uncomfortable for any reason, despite the resolution to remove the ordinance.

“Crime is near an all-time low in Birmingham, but this is a good opportunity to remind folks to take appropriate precautions, whether they are in downtown Birmingham or their own neighborhood,” said City Manager Robert Bruner in an email. “It is also a good opportunity to remind people they should never hesitate to call police if they feel it is necessary. Don’t wait until it is too late. Let our staff prioritize calls and determine how best to handle situations.”

Studt said he cannot recall any arrests made for begging in the city.

To report such behavior, people can call the Birmingham Police Department’s non-emergency number at (248) 530-1870.