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Public hearing set for revised "aggressive" panhandling ordinance in Saratoga Springs

The Saratoga Springs city council met on September 20th, 2022
City of Saratoga Springs/Image capture by WAMC
The Saratoga Springs city council met on September 20th, 2022

A revised ordinance to curb aggressive panhandling in Saratoga Springs has been introduced after a similar measure failed in August.

Following the legislation’s defeat weeks earlier, Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino on Tuesday introduced a revised ordinance to limit “aggressive” panhandling.

The Democrat says the new ordinance removes vague language that could have been considered subjective.

“Responding to the concerns addressed by some of the council members when the original proposed ordinance was debated, there’s certainly one person’s perception of having been treated aggressively would be different from another person’s. And so the revised proposed ordinance, it removes all that and it’s really just a restriction on the places where panhandling can take place,” said Montagnino.

Places where panhandling would be prohibited include near ATMs and banks, bus stops, parking garages and parking lots, and “any portion of a public skyway, alley, or tunnel.” Soliciting motorists from a sidewalk or roadway would also be prohibited.

Violators would be issued an appearance ticket for a violation.

The long-running issue of homelessness and loitering in the bustling downtown returned to the headlines during the busy tourism season this summer, with local business owners calling on the city to step in.

Several residents criticized the revised ordinance during Tuesday’s city council meeting, including Hannah Hurley, who argued those asking for money need housing, not penalties.

“These are people. They are part of our community; they need somewhere to go. I personally live in the apartments here, where people go from my apartment into public housing and it’s very expensive. I graduated from college, I got the internship, I did everything you said. I can’t afford this apartment, barely. How are people going from the streets to this apartment? It’s not possible. We need housing that they can actually afford, we need public housing.”

City resident Andrew Beatty also objected to the ordinance, which he characterized as unconstitutional. Panhandling has been upheld as protected free speech under the First Amendment.

“It’s undemocratic, it’s foolish, it’s a waste of everybody’s time and money to even pretend that something like this could fly. Let’s do a little bit better than shooting ourselves in the foot with our legislation,” said Beatty.

Meantime, many residents say something needs to be done.

Bud Bacon described an incident where he called police after he was assaulted in an alley.

“So they arrest him. I make a statement. The next night I’m going out to dinner at Uncommon Grounds. There sits this guy on the curb. Now, I don’t know what kind of state he was in. I don’t know if he would have recognized me or not. But what I would tell you is that, what if that was my mother? What if that was someone who couldn’t defend themselves?” said Bacon.

Addressing the issue of constitutionality, Commissioner Montagnino said the revised ordinance is modeled after a similar law in the City of Rochester.

“And the reason for having chosen that is that that particular ordinance was constitutionally challenged a few years back, and went all the way up to the highest court in New York, the Court of Appeals, and it passed the challenged. So that question has already been litigated and decided that it’s a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on the exercise of free speech, and so is not constitutionally infirm,” said Montagnino.

A public hearing on the revised ordinance has been set for October 18th.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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