Saying state laws best protect local citizens, Cookeville City Council will not pass an ordinance concerning panhandling or other commerce on local right of ways.
City Attorney Dan Rader said the ordinance appears to be too vague and not the best way to deal with the issue.
“The ordinance, which was originally passed with very broad and did did raise some legitimate First Amendment questions that were brought forward at the public hearing,” Rader said. “Since that hearing, we’ve done a significant additional legal research consulting with people from the state of Tennessee. And at the present time, we felt like that this ordinance was so broad that that I recommended that it not be passed the list.”
Council Member Laurin Wheaton made the motion to deny the new ordinance. It would have prohibited commerce of any kind on sidewalks or right of ways. It was nicknamed the panhandling ordinance because its primary design was to stop people from gathering along roadways, such as Jefferson Avenue at Interstate 40, and asking for money. However, multiple city residents also complained about being approached around local stores and restaurants.
“I know there’s some other behavior that has been brought to my attention that was terribly offensive, but there are lots of state statutes that address that kind of behavior,” Rader said. “If somebody is stopped or is offended, they need to report that to the police and the police can then try to enforce the state statute.”
Rader said the staff will continue to work on an ordinance that could work.