Beggars beware: Don't be rude

Morrisville debates a panhandling law

Staff WriterApril 12, 2006 

Beggars, behave yourselves. The Morrisville Board of Commissioners is thinking about outlawing rude panhandling.

Town leaders, who could vote on the law by the end of the month, have been talking about beggars for weeks, even though panhandlers are rare in this Wake County town of about 12,000, just south of Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Police have told commissioners that complaints about beggars have increased recently to about one a month. Officers also have said they've had problems with several people they label panhandlers.

Town Commissioner Tom Murry said restrictions on begging are a needed "preventative measure" to make sure that panhandlers do not see Morrisville as an unregulated destination. All of the towns surrounding Morrisville restrict or ban begging.

Morrisville police leaders asked for a begging law earlier this year, after they were told that a one-legged panhandler refused to obey an officer's order to stop asking drivers near the intersection of Cary Parkway and N.C. 54 for money. The beggar, who refused to identify himself when contacted by The News & Observer, has told Morrisville police officers they could not do anything to him until they had a begging law to back up their requests, said Lt. Allen Rushing.

Initially, Rushing and Chief Ira Jones asked the Town Council to ban begging in most parts of town.

Some of the town commissioners vocally supported the proposed ban. Commissioner Liz Johnson, for instance, said it would end the unsafe practice of begging while standing in the median of a four-lane road.

Despite that, the police last month stopped asking for a ban.

Jones announced the change soon after the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina told the town that its lawyers thinks the town's proposed begging ban would have been unconstitutional. Among other things, the ACLU objected to a loophole exempting people raising money for churches and charities.

Police now say they want a law that will just outlaw "aggressive" begging, which they define as touching, following, threatening and yelling, among other things. Under the police department's new proposal, nice panhandlers can stay in town.

Commissioner Jackie Holcombe said the new proposal appears to be less controversial. "It sure looks better," she said.

Staff writer Toby Coleman can be reached at 829-8937 or tcoleman@newsobserver.com.

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