Proposed ordinance aims to stop panhandling in Dunbar

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DUNBAR, W.Va. (WOWK) – A controversial ordinance in one Kanawha County community is being celebrated by some while others question if it is constitutional.

A new ordinance in Dunbar, WV aims to regulate panhandling in the city after outcry from members of the public.

But the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union said the ordinance is a violation of people’s rights.

“We don’t think that there is any way to constitutionally ban panhandling, begging, also known as asking for help,” Joseph Cohen, Executive Director of the West Virginia ACLU. “We’d like them to go in a different direction. Maybe work on the underlying causes that lead to homelessness and poverty rather than just trying to deal with people who are begging.”

The ordinance passed a first reading Monday. The move comes after a public forum where residents said people were coming up to them outside of businesses.  

“They were being approached by people on the street soliciting money and it was making them uncomfortable,” said William Cunningham, Mayor of Dunbar. Cunningham said the proposal is a modification to an existing ordinance. It will require anyone who wants to solicit money to come to city hall and get a permit. It will add a paragraph that says that you cannot solicit on streets or sidewalks.  

“Then it gives the police department the authority to go up and ask someone ‘why you are on this property.’ You would have to have written authorization,” Cunningham explained.

People who violate the ordinance would face fines on the first and second offense and possible jail time on the third offense.  

“People do have a fundamental constitutional right to beg,” Cohen said. “If this ordinance were to pass and Dunbar were to enforce it Dunbar would be violating people’s rights and organizations like the ACLU exist to protect those rights.”

Cunningham said the city will proceed. “If they want to take action then we will deal with it in the court system. This is what the citizens of Dunbar want and we will proceed accordingly.”

The ordinance is up for a second reading at the next meeting set for January 17. Cunningham said if it passes it would be effective immediately.  

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