BISMARCK (AP) - North Dakota's capital city is cracking down on aggressive panhandlers after complaints by people who felt intimidated or threatened.
Bismarck city commissioners approved Tuesday an ordinance that bans begging downtown, near ATMs, on school playgrounds, in parks, within 20 feet of a street or bus stop, in crosswalks, near public restrooms and on street medians. Violators face fines of between $50 and $500, depending on the offense.
"Panhandling is a constitutionally permissible activity and the city commission of Bismarck and the city administration doesn't want to ban it," Commissioner Parrell Grossman said, according to KXMB-TV. "We just want to put some new rules in place that provide for safety and set some expectations on what kind of panhandling is permissible and what kind of panhandling is prohibited."
Mayor John Warford said he decided to seek changes to city law when a resident said he was bothered by an aggressive panhandler at a service station. The ordinance is modeled after one in Fargo, North Dakota's largest city, according to The Bismarck Tribune.
Panhandler Chuck Ernest, 58, who has been somewhat of a fixture at the corner of an Interstate 94 off-ramp and one of Bismarck's main thoroughfares, told the Tribune earlier that he cannot find steady work because of a series of injuries and illnesses and is against panhandling laws.
"How else am I going to get money? They want me to rob a convenience store?" he said. "This is America and we should have a right to make a living any way we can as long as it's honest."