Prompted by reports of aggressive panhandling, the city of Anoka is setting strict limits on how people can ask strangers for cash.
Following Minneapolis' lead, the city has created more than a dozen circumstances where it's prohibited to ask for money. It does not include "passively standing, sitting, or engaging in a performance of art with a sign or other indication that a donation is being sought."
"We just want to make sure we have all the tools in our toolbox to ensure our downtown stays as customer- and business-friendly as possible," said Tim Cruikshank, Anoka city manager. "Some of the language came from the city of Minneapolis. We used their ordinance as a model."
That ordinance, adopted in 2007, survived a challenge in Hennepin County district court in 2011.
"It's amazing the stories shop owners tell — what happens inside and outside their doors. I think it's important we address this and address it tough and take a real pro- active stance," said City Council Member Jeff Weaver during a recent council meeting.
Under Anoka's new ordinance, it's illegal to verbally ask for money after sunset or before sunrise.
Other circumstances under which it will be illegal to ask for cash from a person include:
• at a bus stop or rail stop,
• in a vehicle,
• at a sidewalk cafe,
• waiting in line,
• within 80 feet of an ATM
• at a park, playground of public entertainment venue,
• within 10 feet of a gas station,
• within 10 feet of a liquor store,
• within 10 feet of a convenience store.
It also prohibits any touching, blocking a path, or following alongside a person.
The ordinance forbids obscene language or gestures, soliciting in groups of two or more, or asking for money while under the influence or alcohol or drugs.
Finally, it outlaws any verbal request that "is likely to intimidate a reasonable person into responding affirmatively to the solicitation."
The goal isn't to criminalize all panhandling but to ensure downtown patrons don't feel threatened, city staff said.
"It's not illegal if it is done in a passive way," Cruikshank said.
The ordinance aims to stop panhandlers who "won't take no for an answer," said Police Chief Phil Johanson.
Violation of the new ordinance is a misdemeanor.
Johanson said city leaders and business owners initiated the new ordinance — not police. Johanson said he does support it. It gives officers the authority to stop aggressive panhandling that leaves shoppers and residents feeling uneasy.
Julie Jeppson, development director for the Stepping Stone Emergency Housing adult homeless shelter in Anoka, said the organization is not taking a position on the new ordinance.
More broadly, Jeppson urged those compassionate individuals who give change to panhandlers to consider making a donation at Stepping Stone or other nonprofit shelters instead.
"It would do far more good within Stepping Stone," she said.
In other parts of the country, these types of bans on aggressive solicitation have been challenged in federal court as unconstitutional limits on free speech. Recently, the city of Springfield, Ill., panhandling restrictions survived legal scrutiny.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Springfield's panhandling limits in its historic downtown are legal because it was a content-neutral and is a lawful time, place, and manner restriction of speech.
But other federal appeals courts have struck down panhandling bans.