- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — The City Council is considering restrictions on people who beg after dark, sleep on sidewalks, and smoke in bars.

Anyone who panhandles at night, lies on a sidewalk or sits on a public walkway for more than an hour would receive a civil fine, according to a pair of laws proposed at the council meeting Monday by the Downtown Partnership, a business advocacy organization.

Council member Helen Holton also introduced a resolution asking for a hearing to explore the impact of a smoking ban in city bars and restaurants. Mrs. Holton said she wants to study whether bans like those in Montgomery County and New York City would hurt business.

“I’m a reformed smoker, so I know both sides of this debate,” Mrs. Holton said. “My concern is that we need to know what it would mean to small bars and restaurants.”

Several restaurant owners said they oppose such a ban, arguing that they provide nonsmoking sections.

“People will just go out to the suburbs to eat, or they’ll stay at home and have a cigarette and beer, and we’ll lose their business,” said Lily Athari, manager of Louisiana Restaurant.

Street musicians and people who ask for money by holding up signs without speaking to passers-by would be exempt from the night panhandling legislation, said Tom Yeager, a vice president of the Downtown Partnership. The amount of the fine hasn’t been decided.

A separate bill would allow police to write a $50 ticket to anyone who lies on a sidewalk or sits on a public walkway for more than an hour.

The legislation would require a police officer to warn the person and to try to find out whether the person needs help before writing a ticket.

An officer who thinks the person needs assistance would contact workers from the Downtown Partnership, who would evaluate the person and try to bring him or her to a shelter or service agency.

If a person refused help, the officer could write a $50 ticket. A judge could require community service if the person didn’t pay, Mr. Yeager said.

City Council President Sheila Dixon, who sponsored the proposal on behalf of the partnership, said it would require police officers and social workers to try to help homeless people before they asked them to move along.

The Downtown Partnership has twice failed with similar proposals after critics complained that panhandlers would be driven north from downtown into Charles Village and Midtown. But officials said the new legislation also would apply to those areas.

Brendan Walsh, co-founder of the Viva House soup kitchen in Southwest Baltimore, said fining the homeless doesn’t make sense.

“What is the point of giving them a ticket if they don’t have any money?” Miss Walsh asked. “This is pure vindictiveness, and it doesn’t do anything to solve the underlying question of why they are looking for food.”

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