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Panhandling Laws Could Get Stricter

August 31, 2012, 9:52 PM by Brady Mallory

Panhandling Laws Could Get Stricter

Chances are you have probably seen them holding up cardboard signs near Interstate exits and store entrances. Panhandlers are in a few spots in the city asking people to pull over and given them money.

Aaron Dixon has spent the day sitting outside of Walmart on Louise Avenue.  There is a lot of waiting, but every once in a while someone will stop to give him some cash.  As of Friday afternoon he and his friend Martha Tillson had made $20.

"She needs a sleeping bag and we need money to eat with," Dixon said.  "People are really nice in this part of the country in general."

Dixon started in California and made it to the east coast where he met up with Tillson.  The two, along with a black lab companion named Ruckus, went from the east coast to South Dakota and are trying to make enough money to hitchhike to California. 

"If you're just sitting here like we are with a sign, not even approaching people and talking to them. I don't think you are really bothering anyone anyway," Tillson said.

Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel says a lot of people have called in saying panhandlers are bothering them.  Many people are concerned that panhandling is a traffic safety issue and gives Sioux Falls a bad image.  The Police Department wants the City Council to consider a revision to the city ordinance dealing with Panhandling.  A revision could make it illegal to do near Interstate exits, as well as traffic entrances.  

"We certainly ask them to move along, if they refuse to do that, you know, we can't arrest them for it," Barthel said.

As it stands now, Barthel said you are not doing anything wrong if you are just somewhere holding up a sign and asking for money.  However, panhandling does become illegal if you physically bother or harass someone or hold up traffic.

"This isn't an effort for us to get at people who might be in need.  I fully realize there are plenty of people who could use the money or food," Barthel said.

Dixon and Tillson understand their lifestyle is not for everyone and they do not blame people for not wanting to them money.  In fact, they do agree with some laws against panhandling.

"Aggressive panhandling, people running up to your car and shaking a cup at your window and doing things like that," Dixon said.

While these two say they will not get in anybody's way, they do not mind when people go out of their way to show a little kindness. The two gladly accepted some apples from two little kids shopping with their parents. They voluntarily brought them over to Dixon and Tillson, who said thank you.

Meanwhile, the Police Department will present a proposed revised version of the panhandling ordinance to the Public Services Committee in September.  According to Barthel, crafting the language is tricky because he does not want it to affect people holding up signs promoting events, such as school car washes.

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