PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A city councilman is proposing to ban panhandling in the city, a controversial proposal that would almost certainly face a court challenge if implemented as written.
Councilman Nicholas Narducci, D-Ward 4, says the goal of the ban is to protect both the public and the panhandlers themselves, who are often soliciting in roadways or medians.
“There were two murders all due to panhandling in our city,” Narducci said in an interview after Thursday’s City Council meeting. “We’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t had more incidents.”
Police said a murder last month was prompted by a panhandling turf war, as two men fought over the same spot to solicit donations.
“Some of these panhandlers are very aggressive,” Narducci said.
Providence has an existing “aggressive panhandling” ban which the city stopped enforcing amid constitutional concerns. Countless panhandling bans in other cities have been struck down by courts on free speech grounds.
Narducci had previously urged Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration to enforce the existing ordinance. His new proposal would amend that existing law to ban all solicitation in public.
“The proposed ordinance is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Steven Brown, the executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “It would make illegal a wide range of clearly protected First Amendment activity and turn the streets of Providence into a no-speech zone. We trust that a majority of the City Council will recognize this and avoid wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars in completely unnecessary litigation.”
Caitlin Frumeire, the executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, said the ordinance criminalizes poverty and homelessness.
“The way that we end panhandling is through housing,” Frumeire said. “I would really love for the attention that’s being paid to this to be focused on how do we create solutions to the affordable housing crisis we have in the state.”
“I’m not a rich councilperson,” Narducci said. “I’m not doing this against poor people, I’m not doing this against homeless people.”
He said he hopes the plan can be vetted in the ordinance committee and potentially be reworded in a way that is constitutional.
Thursday’s meeting was the last one for the full council before the summer recess, although committees may still meet. Among other ordinances introduced was a proposed moratorium on 2 a.m. liquor licenses for businesses on Federal Hill in light of recent violence including a murder last month.
The council also passed a resolution asking the Elorza administration to conduct an analysis of JUMP bikes and e-scooters from companies Lime and Bird that operate in the city.
Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan said she’s requesting a review of “contracts, internal controls, and program operations” amid complaints about the bikes and scooters being left in front of properties and blocking driveways.