In a meeting on Wednesday, January 22, the Missoula City Council met to discuss recommendations on revising the city ordinance on aggressive panhandling.

Ward One councilman Jason Wiener said the meeting began with Mayor Jon Engen presenting results of negotiations between differing parties on the ordinance.

"The mayor presented a revised version of an ordinance that came out of negotiations that he had facilitated among the administration, downtown organizations who had their own interests, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, which had some concerns about it," Wiener said. "It was not exactly a consensus document in that both the ACLU and downtown interests had changes they would have liked to see. Alternately, we set a public hearing on a version of the ordinance on February 10."

Wiener says one aspect of the negotiations that was agreed to by all parties, was the elimination in the current ordinance addressing solicitation into a roadway.

"The ACLU felt the ordinance was over-broad, and since there was already a state law on the books that covers the issue, the decision there was to take it out of the ordinance and just rely on the statute," Wiener said.  "That way, if there's a problem with the statute, we can just let the state sort it out."

Wiener said another aspect of the negotiations involved different areas in downtown Missoula.

"The scope of the original ordinance was that the Business Improvement District is a fair bit larger than the Central Business District, so one of the agreements was to change the effective area to just the Central Business District," Wiener said. "I think when we get together on February 10th we'll just vote on the recommendations, and the majority will prevail."

Wiener said the differing sides all have their preferences when it comes to the anti-solicitation ordinances.

"I think everybody would like, more than anything, to see their version of the preferences signed into law, but we can only talk about this for so long," Wiener said. "We haven't really had a protracted debate on this like we have on many other policy issues, so, we'll have the meeting, let the public have their say, have a vote, and move on."

Wiener said panhandling will continue, no matter what the council decides.

"I think part of the solution is having more eyes on the street, and creating an environment in which folks who are asking for money don't have a realistic expectation that people are going to give it to them," Wiener said. "Those are things that passing a law doesn't make a difference to, so we'll start working on education and enforcement."

Ward One City Councilman Jason Wiener


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