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Lake Saint Louis explores restrictions on panhandling in city

Standing in the median of a busy roadway to ask for a handout or donation may become illegal in Lake Saint Louis.

City officials are trying to address some panhandling issues in the city particularly along Hwy. N and the intersection of Lake Saint Louis Boulevard and Interstate 70.

Police Chief Chris DiGiuseppi told the city’s Board of Aldermen at itsMarch 19 meeting that limiting hazardous solicitation along major roadways may require some tweaking of the city existing ordinances.

City officials said they have been hearing complaints about aggressive solicitation. The city has a loitering ordinance that prohibits hindering vehicle flow or pedestrian traffic. DiGiuseppi said a possible solution may involve toughening up that ordinance.

“I don’t want them [solicitors] to be hurt,” DiGiuseppi said. “We’re getting more people standing in the median or in the middle of the street.

“It’s dangerous but we have an ordinance that covers it. What I want to do is enhance that ordinance to keep people off the median because it’s too dangerous.”

People still will be able to stand on public rights-of-way on the side of the road. If that becomes a public safety problem, the city can add an ordinance that limits solicitation in those rights-of-way, DiGiuseppi said.

He told the aldermen that he plans to draft some revisions to the existing loitering ordinance, involving the use of road medians, for board consideration in April.

Limiting public access along public rights-of-way is a delicate issue, DiGiuseppi said.

“You can’t tell someone they can’t stand on the side of the road,” he said.  “There is a constitutional right of free speech and freedom of expression. You can stand on side of the road, you can hold a sign. You can’t tell people ‘get out of here,’ [being there is] constitutionally protected.”

DiGiuseppi said police have tried to work with people who most often are asking for cash at intersections, trying to get them in touch with charities and the city’s police chaplains program to get them help.

Mayor Kathy Schweikert noted that some solicitors are aggressive and often are still out in the street walking between vehicles when traffic lights change at intersections. That’s illegal under the present ordinance because those solicitors are hindering traffic, DiGiuseppi said.

Any changes are expected to impact charitable solicitations often conducted by firefighters or civic and charitable groups, he said. DiGiuseppi said the fire chiefs of the Lake Saint Louis and Wentzville fire departments agree that soliciting from road medians is dangerous.  They and charitable groups may be able to move charity and giving drives to store parking lots with permission.

DiGiuseppi said his draft may restrict solicitation from medians along major roads with speed limits of more than 30 miles per hour and traffic counts of at least 15,000 vehicles per day.

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