Panhandling ordinance setback not likely to halt enforcement

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ROCHESTER - Rochester Police have ceased enforcing the city's panhandling ordinance in the wake of a federal judge's ruling on Friday, but say they have plenty of law enforcement tools to prosecute most of the panhandling activity that might take place on public roadways.

The Rochester ordinance, which was enacted in September 2015, states, in part, "No person shall knowingly distribute any item to, receive any item from, or exchange any item with the occupant of any motor vehicle when the vehicle is located in the roadway."

Federal Judge Landya McCafferty ruled that the city of Manchester cannot legally enforce the ordinance against panhandlers who do not step into the road.

Rochester Police Capt. Jason Thomas, said police have voluntariiy stopped enforcing the city ordinance, but four state statutes remain on the books that should cover most scenarios under which panhandlers can become a safety issue.

They include:

  • Disorderly conduct, which could result if vehicle traffic is obstructed.
  • A statute that prohibits standing in the travel portion of the roadway
  • A statute that prohibits walking in the roadway when a sidewalk is adjacent to it.
  • A statute that states no person may be on the travel portion of the roadway while soliciting business, a ride, employment or contributions from an occupant of any vehicle.

Thomas said only one person has ever been summonsed under Rochester panhandling ordinance.

The plaintiff forcing the Friday ruling had the backing of the ACLU of New Hampshire and New Hampshire Legal Assistance, who filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court in Concord in 2016.

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