MYRTLE BEACH — Anyone who wishes to solicit within city limitsincluding panhandlerscould soon be required to carry a permit to do so according to an ordinance introduced by the Myrtle Beach City Council.
The council introduced the ordinance during Tuesdays meeting as a way to relax some of the current laws in the cityspecifically from 13th Avenue South to 21st Avenue North, east of Kings Highway, which is a solicitation-free zone, said Councilman Wayne Gray.
We recognized that there were zones where we were restricting all speech, he said, acknowledging that asking for money or passing out fliers fall within the rights of the First Amendment.
Specifically, one form of solicitation the ordinance would allow is panhandling on streets, sidewalks and in parks during daylight hours as long as the person asking for money does not accost the person they are asking, among other restrictions.
I think we need to use this to make a statement that were going to become a little stricter on the nuisance of [begging], Mayor John Rhodes said. Were not like other cities. Our livelihood is tourism. If we dont take care of our tourists, if we dont protect our tourists, well be out of [business].
City spokesman Mark Kruea said the point of the proposed ordinance is to keep up with recent changes in the legal landscape regarding noncommercial solicitation, especially religious and political speech. Commercial solicitation still would not be allowed along that stretch of Kings Highway, but will continue to be allowed in other areas of the city.
The ordinance would not allow any solicitation on the beach, boardwalk or at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, but some forms of solicitation could be allowed on streets, sidewalks and in parks.
According to the ordinance, anyone who wishes to pass out informational fliers, picket or ask for money would need to present photo identification and pass a local warrant check in order to receive a free permit that would allow them to solicit in certain areas. Those caught soliciting without a permit could be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $500 and/or 30 days in jail, Kruea said.
During the meeting, Rhodes said an issue, if the ordinance passes, could be its enforcement.
Our police force is so busy taking care of everything else except solicitation, he said. Its starting to wind down and once [the ordinance is] passed, we should see our police force do more enforcement.
Under the new ordinance, homeless people who are begging in the city would be required to apply for a permit, Kruea said. Often times those who are homeless do not carry identification, which could make it hard to receive the necessary permit, but Rhodes said the city hopes to address the issue soon.
A coalition of organizations offering services to the homeless is working to create a process to help those in need receive identification, said Mary Jeffcoat, who has been facilitating meetings among service providers, local governments, churches and others since the council resolved last fall to spearhead the group.
Were very close to setting up a process where anybody who needs help would go to one intake place and be issued an ID card, she said. Everybody in town will be able to get an ID card, so that shouldnt be an issue [to receive a permit].
Jeffcoat said she hopes that process will be in place in the next month or two.
The ordinance could be eligible for a vote on Aug. 28, at which time it would become law.
Contact Maya T. Prabhu at 444-1722.