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New panhandling and vagrancy codes on Nye County books

Updated July 8, 2019 - 9:59 am

Nye County has a set of new laws on its books following the adoption of an amendment to Nye County Code Title 9, which governs public peace, morals and welfare.

The new ordinance, No. 548, specifically targets panhandling, vagrancy and disorderly conduct within the confines of the county.

The code amendment was addressed during the Nye County Commission’s Tuesday, June 18 meeting and while a majority of the commissioners were on board with the concept, commissioner Donna Cox was against it.

As the item opened with no public comment on the matter, commissioner Leo Blundo made a motion to adopt the new ordinance.

Commission discussion

Blundo remarked that he was familiar with some of the history surrounding the new laws, which, although not explicitly centered on the homeless population, do undoubtedly focus on those less fortunate residents of the county.

“I do appreciate all of the social services we provide as a county, as a government, I appreciate the churches and organizations that try to help a lot of the individuals that are out in the public and need a helping hand,” Blundo stated, continuing, “I do get frustrated with the public behavior we seem to see time and time again, defecation in public or just blatant vagrancy. It’s just one of those tough social situations where we have to address it in one way, shape or form. We have a duty to the public.”

Cox quickly interjected, “I’d like you to consider, this is just one more law that’s going to cost us more money to enforce. I think everything I see in this bill is actually covered in one way or another by laws we already have on the books.”

Blundo acknowledged that he believed Cox’s concerns were valid and turned to Nye County Deputy District Attorney Brad Richardson for his take.

Richardson said the ordinance was not a duplicate because as written, it was much more specific than those laws currently in existence. “In an effort to regulate certain of these behaviors, if you try to use the laws on the books, you will fail because they don’t really apply,” Richardson explained. “Our office does not view this as creating any more enforcement or any more expense …”

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman chimed in that as she read it, the ordinance provided a tool for law enforcement to handle situations involving panhandling and vagrancy. Commission chairman John Koenig added some background as well, remarking that the creation of the new laws was prompted by complaints from residents about homeless persons sleeping in the parks, where children play.

“I found a town of Pahrump ordinance that sort of said you can’t sleep in the park,” Koenig detailed. “So it seemed to me it was a pretty simple thing. I took it to the sheriff and the sheriff said, ‘Sorry, I can’t enforce that.’ So I went to Angela (Bello), who was the DA at the time, and asked to please change it so we could enforce it. That has morphed into this, so now we have something we can enforce.”

Koenig also noted that there are many Pahrump town ordinances that are not enforceable, which Cox immediately jumped on. “If we have laws that are not enforceable then we need to take them off the books,” Cox declared.

Koenig replied that he agreed and stated that the county was currently working on doing so.

When the motion came to a vote, it passed 4-1 with Cox the only dissenting vote. The new ordinance is effective as of Monday, July 8.

Code language

The 11-page ordinance outlines the intent behind the new laws as well as the definitions, prohibited behavior and penalties attached, with a large portion of the code addressing panhandling, begging and solicitations for charitable or political purposes.

“The public has a right to access, use and enjoy public property and places, free from intimidation, fear and unwarranted confrontation,” the document reads. “Protection of this right of the public is a significant government interest.”

The ordinance continues by detailing that aggressive solicitations and solicitations in certain locations at certain times, such as from a street median on a high-speed or high-traffic road or within a given distance from the entrance of a business, diminishes access to and enjoyment of public places. Commercial well-being is also negatively affected by such behavior, the ordinance states.

Therefore, “It is the intent of the board to protect the public from persons who engage in aggressive solicitations or who engage in other methods of solicitations that diminish or prevent the public’s right of access to and use and enjoyment of public places, but without prohibiting any person’s such right and without impinging on the use of the public forum by all.”

There are exemptions included in the code, such as solicitations made on premises owned, leased or otherwise legally occupied by the person or group that will benefit from the solicitation, along with passive panhandling, begging and charitable or political solicitations, except where expressly prohibited.

The code addresses vagrancy as well, with provisions that prohibit lying, sleeping or dozing on any street or sidewalk, sleeping or dozing in any public park between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and remaining sitting or lying on any public street, highway, sidewalk, alley, lane or right of way, except in an emergency. Disorderly conduct and urinating or defecating in public are also attended to in the ordinance.

To review the ordinance in full visit www.nyecounty.net and click on the news link.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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