Newport council rejects panhandling proposal

A proposal to crack down on aggressive pan-handlers was rejected by the Newport City Council Wednesday night.

City Councilman Michael Farley came up with the proposal to ask the city lawyer to look into tougher rules to combat aggressive pan-handling, things like following or touching people, getting in their way, making threatening gestures, or speaking loudly.

Farley says he heard complaints about in-your-face pan-handlers from dozens of residents and business owners, particularly around Broadway. "Made them feel intimidated, made them feel threatened, discouraged them from walking, shopping, or dining on Broadway," Farley said during the council meeting.

On Broadway, pizza shop owner Russell Gomes agreed something needs to be done. "It's not even the pan-handling. It's the loitering on top of it, which they haven't cracked down on that yet either. You have some that are nice, timid about it. But then you have some jump right out and intimidate customers," Gomes told NBC10.

But homeless advocates opposed the plan. Don Boucher of Riverwood Mental Health told NBC10, "I think there's an issue, but I think the issue is complicated. I think it involves the need for social services for the folks that are there."

Resident Margaret Kirschner told the council, "I consider the homeless people of Broadway my neighbors and that's how I treat them."

And in the end, the city council rejected the aggressive pan-handling plan in a 4 to 3 vote.

Members of the majority claimed there are already laws on the books about accosting people. And they argued, if the police wanted more laws, they would have asked for them.

Councilman Justin McLaughlin said, "What we need is more police presence on the streets. And passing an ordinance isn't going to put more police on the streets. So I think it's misplaced."