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Fundraisers Driven from the Streets

Communities seeking to prevent panhandlers from venturing into streets are stirring controversy with bans that also prevent people from approaching vehicles to ask for charitable donations.

The ordinances' advocates say they must apply to everyone to ensure safety and preclude legal challenges, but groups such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) say such bans hurt fundraising.

"It's popping up all over the country" and is "a huge issue for us," says MDA spokesman Bob Mackle. Firefighters raised $28.5 million this year.

When Dallas passed a panhandling ban that included charity solicitations, MDA collections dropped from $260,000 to less than $50,000. The Texas Legislature voted to exempt firefighters, who raised $270,000 this year, Mackle says.

The Hanover County, Va., Board of Supervisors plans an Oct. 14 hearing on a proposed ban on selling or soliciting on roads. "This is dangerous for drivers," says Vice Chairman G. Ed Via.

Russ Acors, president of the Hanover Firefighters Association, says requiring firefighters to get permits would be a better solution.

"If anybody is capable of handling themselves in a safe manner in the streets, it's us," Acors says.

Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, says communities "should always apply one standard to everyone."

David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, says ordinances that target panhandlers but allow others to solicit in streets are vulnerable to lawsuits. "Expression cannot be prohibited just because it makes people uncomfortable," he says.

Elsewhere:

The City-County Council of Indianapolis and Marion County passed an ordinance last month banning soliciting, selling or talking with people in vehicles within 50 feet of a stoplight or stop sign.

The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, City Council could finalize action this month on an ordinance banning all soliciting along city streets. "The traffic hazard . . . is enough to warrant" the ordinance, says Police Chief Greg Graham.

Commissioners in Oconee County, Ga., expect a draft ordinance by the end of this month that would ban panhandling in streets. Chairman Melvin Davis says permits for groups might be allowed.

"I am really torn over whether it really needs to be outlawed altogether," Davis says.

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