Who Owns the Street? Montgomery County Debates Roadside Solicitation

A bill to forbid roadside solicitation aims to get everyone--charity groups and panhandlers alike--out of the street, drawing the ire of county firefighters.

There’s a rumble in the streets of Montgomery County. A few state legislators, at least one council member and some residents are working to put restrictions on the use of the county’s curbs, medians and roadways, all the while facing opposition from county firefighters. 

Roadside solicitation, the act of asking for money on the side of the street, is the subject of two separate bills making their way through Montgomery County’s delegation in the Maryland General Assembly.

Should either of the bills pass, they would authorize the County Council to create laws around the practice. 

“There’s a serious problem with people entering the roadway and interfering with traffic in order to solicit,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist 20), who is sponsoring one of the bills. “This is obviously a traffic danger, this is obviously a danger to motorists and to the people who are soliciting in the roadways.”

Raskin’s bill, which is being sponsored on the House side by Del. Sheila Hixson, also of District 20, would allow the County Council to choose an all-out ban on roadside solicitation or to create a permitting system.

Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Dist 14) is pushing a bill that would not allow a ban, but rather give the option requiring permits. She introduced a similar bill last year that was withdrawn at the last minute.

Kaiser did not respond to requests for comment for this story. She told Patch last August that she created the bill after receiving complaints from people who were tired of panhandlers blocking busy intersections, like Randolph Road and New Hampshire Avenue in Colesville. For more, check out the story on Colesville Patch.

Kaiser said previously that permits are preferable to a ban because it allows legitimate charities to continue soliciting in the street, like the firefighters’ “Fill the Boot” fundraiser, which raises money for muscular dystrophy.

Opponents of Kaiser’s bill argue that the roadways are no place for anyone to ask for money, firefighters included.

“It’s distracting for drivers, it’s unsafe to have people in the middle of the road when they don’t need to be there…we don’t want to have our own firefighters out in the road either,” said Councilmember Phil Andrews, chair of the County Council's public safety committee.

Andrews points to firefighters in California and Texas who were hit by cars while soliciting for “Fill the Boot.” 

“The point is, there are all kinds of ways to solicit for great causes like muscular dystrophy without doing it in the middle of the street,” he said.

At least one member of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue thinks that's just not true. 

“Tell me the way that will collect $250,000 in three days,” Assistant Chief Scott Graham, a spokesperson for the department, said. 

Graham told Patch that he doesn’t understand why some are opposed to the campaign, which he said used to raise between $200,000 and $250,000 for local children suffering from muscular dystrophy and their families.

Last year, firefighters were banned from leaving the median and collections dropped to around $90,000, Graham said. 

“Our entire time in Montgomery County they cannot give us one single incident where there has been injury or accident as it relates to ‘Fill the Boot,' ” Graham continued. “We follow all specific safety procedures; we wear high visibility vests; we have radio equipment where we can communicate with one another; we’re out in full visibility hours.”

Within both the General Assembly and the County Council, there seems to be a consensus that something should be done about roadside solicitation, which is illegal in both Prince George’s and Howard Counties. 

Raskin and Hixson’s bill must first pass through the county’s delegates before being voted on by the county’s senators. Raskin said he feels confident about his chances on the Senate side. 

In the County Council, Andrews said views are mixed as to how best to address roadside solicitation.

“It’s unclear which approach the council might adopt,” he said. “But it is important for the county to have the authority to address the issue and not to have our options limited.”


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