MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — Elected officials and law enforcement agencies from all across Monongalia County gathered on Thursday to discuss the potential of implementing a panhandling ordinance.
“We are all in agreement that we want to do something about the panhandling and the concerns,” Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom said. “It’s a small problem and a minor problem that turns into larger problems if we don’t deal with it.”
Next week, the ordinance will be sent back out to all of the different parties, where it will be looked over by different city and town attorneys. Bloom hopes it will be in place by August.
Some people are worried that the ordinance will violate freedom of speech.
“Well there’s a difference because this is called a captive audience,” Bloom said. “With the freedom of speech, no one is saying they can’t do it if you can get up and walk away, but when you’re in traffic and you’re in the middle of the line – you’re stuck there and you can not leave.”
Officials said that they aren’t trying to attack a certain population of people. Bloom attributes one of the main causes of the ordinance to protecting the safety of both panhandlers and drivers.
“You have people in the middle of the road that are causing accidents either by when it’s dark out, when you have cars stopping when it’s a green light and people are giving them something,” Bloom said. “It’s a safety and security issue for those in the street and for those being confronted where they can’t leave.”
While people may want to be good Samaritans and spare some change or a few dollars, Bloom said that people are already doing this through their taxes, which go to non-profit agencies to benefit those in need.
“We’re going to do a whole educational component to the ordinance,” Bloom said. “We need to address how we are dealing with the problem, we have over $1.5 million of services that we want to try and offer.”
With any ordinance, there has to be a consequence for violating it. That’s where Bloom is hoping the educational component will kick in.
Panhandlers that are told to move on the first time will be given a piece of paper that lists all of the different services they can use. For the third violation, officials were looking at the possibility of jail time.
Ultimately, the punishment looks to be unified across the county.
“We need to show that there is enforcement that all of the different parties are doing it the same way, that the law is the same way and I really believe this is one step to resolve some of these problems that are growing,” Bloom said.