New state law aims to limit panhandlers' aggressive behavior

Panhandlers in Tennessee are about to face new laws aimed at limiting how they can behave. On July 1, "aggressive panhandling" will be a crime statewide.

"The majority of panhandlers are not homeless. There are those out there making a living doing this," said Asst. Chief Tracy Arnold, Chattanooga Police Dept.

In Chattanooga, an aggressive panhandler can be cited under city ordinance. But the new state law will make it a misdemeanor for anyone asking for donations, to touch a stranger, block them or their vehicle, follow them, use profanity, or make threats with either words or gestures.

"There is a line they can cross. Sometimes they're a little more aggressive," Arnold said.

Hot spots for panhandling in the city include interstate exits, especially near Hamilton Place, as well as downtown.

Riverbend is expected to bring more panhandlers to downtown areas, even though panhandling near and around the river is against city ordinance.

"Anytime we have a large gathering like that, the potential for panhandling increases as well," said Arnold.

To help enforce the new law, police ask folks to give a detailed description of the panhandler, including clothing and the direction they're headed, too.

"If they do wish to give money to a panhandler, make sure that money is already available, not reach into their wallet, their purse, or their pocket at the time."

If someone is found guilty of aggressive panhandling, they could spend up to 30 days in jail and pay a $50 fine. A second offense could mean up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.