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Urbana Council Passes Measure Targeting ‘Aggressive’ Solicitation

A watered-down version of what began as a panhandling ordinance has been approved by the Urbana City Council.

The measure that passed on a 5-to-1 vote Monday night instead bans what's called 'aggressive solicitation,' or those who ask for money in a threatening or intimidating matter. The new ordinance removed portions that banned any requests for donations in the Philo Road Business District.

Alderwoman Diane Marlin said those who aggressively beg in that area have brought one unintended consequence.

"Basically, people who have been approached, or aggressively solicited or felt threatened, their reaction is to just stop patronizing businesses where this occured," she said. "That's a survival tactic."

The new measure still prohibits solicitation near an ATM or bank. Public opponents, including resident Ron Custer, argue that laws already on the books in Urbana should handle what the council is trying to address. Custer is one of several opponents who has come out in the last few weeks to speak out about the issue.

"I mean, when we hear anecdotes of somebody being terrorized in their car, and somebody else saying 'oh this happens routinely,'" Custer said. "Doesn't that sound like something that could have been responded to effectively by now?"

Opponents also say the original ordinance unfairly targeted poor people, and didn't distinguish from those who intimidated from those who casually ask for money.

One change to the new ordinance allows violators to perform community service as an alternative to paying a fine. That's an idea welcomed by Alderman Eric Jakobsson.

"That certainly will not dilute what we're hoping to acheive with this, whether we achieve it or not," Jakobsson said. "It definitely moves it in a direction of actually even being more than a deterrent, but being a positive outreach, to the extent that that's possible."

City council members will do an 18-month review in Jan. 2013. Alderwoman Heather Stevenson voted down the measure, saying the issue weighs heavily on civil liberties. She suggested that the public as well as police officers should learn more about existing laws.

Mayor Laurel Prussing and Alderman Dennis Roberts did not attend Monday's council meeting.