CUMBERLAND, Md. - A bill that should help Allegany County law enforcement impose tighter controls on panhandlers was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley last week. The law becomes effective June 1.
Panhandling seems to reach its height in the fall and winter holiday season, especially in the vicinity of the Country Club Mall, Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson has said.
The bill was sponsored by the Allegany County Delegation as House Bill 150.
The bill passed the House of Delegates March 1 by a vote of 130-1 and passed the Senate 45-0 on March 30.
The law allows Allegany County to begin a permit program for roadside solicitations. The permits can only be issued for one calendar day per year. Other counties have similar provisions, including Anne Arundel, Cecil, Frederick and Baltimore counties.
Late last year, Robertson asked legislators for help in combating panhandlers in the county.
"Most people are expressing concern over whether these people are really in need or they're doing this as their job," said Robertson at the time.
The main concentration of the panhandlers was in the LaVale area between Country Club Mall and Braddock Square. The panhandlers were also active on nearby National Highway.
The sheriff and his deputies heard concerns from a large number of citizens, he said.
Motorists may look over at the panhandlers and their signs, causing traffic safety issues and occasionally, panhandlers may block the road. "It's a safety issue when it comes to the roadway," Robertson said.
A change to state law was the only remedy to control panhandling, a member of Maryland's Attorney General's Office said.
Last year, Assistant Attorney General Sandra Benson Brantley said that state law would prevent Allegany County from passing a local law against panhandling.
"The authority of a local government in Maryland to enact laws regulating roadside solicitations in and around roadways is limited in two ways. First, state law explicitly regulates solicitation in roadways, and thus preempts any local regulation on the issue. Second, any government regulation of solicitation will trigger scrutiny to determine whether the regulation violates free speech rights under the First Amendment," Brantley said.
Brantley suggested an amendment to another existing law could add Allegany County to a list of counties prohibiting solicitation of donations in similar situations, Brantley said. The current bill does just that.
Information from: Cumberland (Md.) Times-News, http://www.times-news.com/timesnew.html
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)