City weighs update to panhandling regulations

Some out-of-town nonprofit panhandlers are in the clear as far as local ordinances are concerned, but the Dallas-based group’s recurring collections at the intersection Hwy. 80 and 271 have prompted complaints and a proposed tightening of Gladewater rules.
It’s worth repeating that the visitors from the Voices of New Life outreach haven’t violated any state or local regulations. Wearing high-vis clothing, carrying buckets emblazoned with their mission, smiling and asking for donations, they’ve endured the heat to collect on drivers’ generosity toward their religious-exempt North Texas ministry.
Their efforts are covered by Gladewater’s permitting exemption “for a charitable, educational, patriotic, philanthropic, or religious purpose.” That said, there have been scores of calls and concerns to city officials about roadway panhandling, and relevant new rules are on tap for council deliberation this week.
Gladewater Building Inspector Al Harrison wears multiple hats at City Hall, and he’s been working with Police Chief Kyle Ready and other local leaders to update regulations that would, at least to some degree, curtail the solicitation of donations in the city limits.
It’s just a proposal right now, Harrison emphasized Monday: the draft code change is poised for council review, revision and consideration during the group’s monthly meeting Thursday evening at Gladewater City Hall.
Basically, “We’re going to change it so only locally-recognized groups can have an exception from paying the permit fee. Anybody else, they want to do it, it’s a $500 fee.”

According to the relevant portions of the Texas Transportation Code’s Sec.552.007 regarding Solicitation by Pedestrians, “A person may not stand in a roadway to solicit a ride, contribution, employment, or business from an occupant of a vehicle, except that a person may stand in a roadway to solicit a charitable contribution if authorized to do so by the local authority having jurisdiction over the roadway.”

Inviting donors to “Help Us Help Others,” the Voices of New Life charity is apparently active across the state, and representatives circulate throughout this area, seeking donations to provide “Food, Housing & Clothing” to others.

Notably, per part (c), “In this section, ‘charitable contribution’ means a contribution to an organization defined as charitable by the standards of the United States Internal Revenue Service.” lists a Voices of New Life nonprofit based in Duncanville. Apparently headquartered in Dallas today, members of the group carrying the same name solicit donations throughout Texas and this area, ostensibly circulating through various communities.
As far as the current Gladewater City Ordinance, 11.15.050 Permit Required notes, “No person shall engage in, transact, or conduct the business or occupation of a solicitor or vendor, as herein defined, either as principal or as agent, servant, or employee of any other person, without first having obtained a permit therefor, unless such person is exempt, under the provisions of this chapter, from having to obtain such a permit. The provisions of this section shall not apply where the solicitation is for a charitable, educational, patriotic, philanthropic, or religious purpose. A permit is not required where the solicitor is on the property by express, prior invitation of the person residing on such premises.”
As a registered religious nonprofit, the New Life representatives are within their rights to solicit organizations under Gladewater codes – currently. They’re exempt from applying for a permit.

“We made exceptions for charitable organizations, educational, religious,” Harrison echoed. “Now, those will only be exceptions for locally-recognized groups.
“This group coming out of Dallas, that’s not what we meant when we said church groups are able to panhandle in our city.”
Notably, neither the New Life solicitors nor other out-of-area organizations are banned from seeking driver donations. Rather, if the code change is approved, they’ll have to go through the permitting process that’s exempted for similar, local groups.
Among other restrictions – the draft ordinance creates ‘safe zones’ within five feet of a curb and 20 feet of a business entrance as well as prohibiting panhandling in a crosswalk – the proposed regulation is also crafted to prohibit so-called ‘aggressive panhandling,’ Harrison added.
“Different things of that nature,” he said, derived from specific complaints that have reached city leaders – for example, some drivers have reported panhandlers knocking on windows, demanding larger donations and, allegedly, impeding traffic.
Harrison doesn’t have a specific count of the complaints: “Quite a few people called City Hall. Some called the police department,” he said. “Some called me. I don’t know the total amount. I probably got about 20 different people that complained to me about them.”
Under existing codes, the visiting panhandlers have not committed any violations, Harrison confirmed, beyond – again, allegedly – not always staying within the public right-of-way. Interactions with police officers saw no citations issued.
Moving forward, if the proposed ordinance is approved with no significant changes this week, non-local would-be solicitors, including registered non-profits, will have to apply for a panhandling permit and pay a $500 processing fee.
“It’s covering our costs,” Harrison said. “The application is you have to fill out the form, submit it through the chief of police. You have to submit everyone that’s involved so he can run a background check on everyone involved. If he signs off it has to come to me so I can see that it agrees with local ordinances and zoning then I sign off on it.
“We also have to issue each person involved a wallet-sized card showing that they have a permit.”
Panhandling without a local exemption or a permit will incur a fine not to exceed $500 per violation.

– By James Draper


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