- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

ATLANTA (AP) — Protesters yelled “Shame!” and “Crybaby!” as City Council members approved a ban on panhandling near tourist attractions, but the mayor is expected to sign the legislation.

The ordinance, approved 12-3 Monday, makes it illegal to ask strangers for food or money near downtown museums and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. The measure was pushed by business owners who say the area is awash in aggressive beggars, but it got spirited opposition from civil rights groups and advocates for the poor.

The ordinance will become law when Mayor Shirley Franklin signs it. The mayor has said she supports the panhandling ban, but a time for her to sign the bill hasn’t been set, said her spokeswoman, Catherine Woodling.

The vote capped a summer of debate over the proposal, pitched by a business group in advance of a large aquarium opening downtown in November. The council delayed the vote at least three times because of protests.

Some argued the panhandling ban was an illegal limit on speech. One council member who supported the ordinance, Felicia A. Moore, said before casting her vote: “I’m not sure if it’s constitutional or not.”

On the eve of Monday’s vote, several dozen protesters camped on the lawn of City Hall, and the crowd swelled to more than 200 by the time the council met.

“The ability to ask for alms is a God-given ability. You can pass laws to protect trees, but what about human beings? God help us,” protester Elisabeth Omilami told council members.

Only a few of the speakers favored the ban, and they were jeered. Georgia State University student William Moore told the council, “We’re tired of students being harassed” by panhandlers. But someone in the crowd shouted, “Crybaby!” and Mr. Moore left the room.

The area near the King center was added to the panhandling ban Monday after some critics said the original proposal was neglecting tourist areas of interest to blacks. Center officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Violators of the ordinance would get a warning on the first offense and a referral to a city resource center on the second. A one-month jail sentence is possible on the third offense. When approved, Atlanta would join cities including Orlando, Fla., and Indianapolis with no-panhandling zones.

After the vote, several people, including former council member Derrick Boazman, were led away in handcuffs after shouting and refusing to leave the council chamber.

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