Council moves up Lexington panhandling ordinance on agenda

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Lexington city leaders are moving up panhandling on their agenda. Earlier this year, the state supreme court struck down a 2007 ordinance that banned panhandling. But now, discussions are on the table to put a new ordinance in place.

"The ordinance will mostly focus on traffic safety and pedestrian safety in Fayette County and making sure that people who are using the roadway are being protected," said Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard.

City leaders say they've been searching for solutions as the number of panhandlers on the streets continues to rise.

In February, the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down a Lexington ordinance banning panhandlers saying it was a violation of free speech.

After getting many complaints about people begging on streets and intersections, Lexington Police say they will now be stepping up patrols. They say while panhandling has been made legal, aggressive and hostile begging can be harassment.

"One of the complaints that we've received is aggressive panhandling, meaning that someone is slamming their hand on the window, yelling at someone if they didn't give them money, or continuing to follow them down the street repeatedly asking for money," said Chief Barnard.

Urban County Councilman Kevin Stinnett says, it was decided that a replacement ordinance focusing on pedestrian and traffic safety will be discussed May 2 at a council committee meeting. It was originally scheduled to be discussed in June.

Stinnett says panhandling is one of the biggest topics of people in Lexington right now.

"We want to make our community safer for everybody. We also want to help people," Stinnett said. "We are a very giving community, and we want to make sure our community helps those who need to get help and this ordinance will hopefully protect and saves lives at the end."

The city's efforts come as welcome news to some business owners who have dealt with panhandlers for years.

Mamadou "Sav" Savane, who owns Sav's Grill and Sav's Chill on South Limestone, says he has watched as panhandling has gone from bad to worse on the corner outside his restaurants. He says he appreciates anything the city can do to help.

"I'm really appreciating the effort that's already there," Savane said. "It's a good thing for the community, and hopefully, as they start talking, something good will come out of it."

Savane said he has already noticed more police patrolling the areas on bikes in the past week or so.

The city is encouraging people not to give to panhandlers but instead, direct them to social service agencies.

"Just last year, Lexington was named the second most generous city in the country," said Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.

Although we've seen a rise in panhandling in Lexington, there has actually been a decline in the number of homeless people in the city the past four years. Mayor Gray says no one in Lexington has to beg for food or shelter.

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