City Council considers tweak to panhandling laws following street musician arrests

Committee to vet proposal today


  • Courtesy Eryk McDaniel
  • Eryk McDaniel outside Turner Field a few days after being arrested there

Musicians could soon return to performing on Atlanta’s streets without worry if a new ordinance gains enough traction.

Atlanta City Councilmen Michael Julian Bond and H. Lamar Willis are expected to introduce an ordinance today that could clarify the city’s current panhandling ordinance. The measure follows two separate arrests last month of trombonist Eryk McDaniel outside Turner Field and violinist Johnny Arco inside the Five Points MARTA station.

Council reworked its panhandling ordinance last fall, making it illegal to ask for money within 15 feet of entrances and exits to many public and private buildings. Atlanta Police said McDaniel had violated broken a city ordinance for monetary solicitation. MARTA Police accused Arco of breaking two state laws for panhandling and selling CDs.

Following the incidents, Bond said the current laws weren’t specific enough and needed to be revisited.

“While it is clear that street musicians do not need permits to play on city sidewalks, it is not clear that their actions could not be properly considered monetary solicitation under the current code,” Bond recently told CL. “My proposed amendment will clarify the intent of the original legislation that musicians are not to be considered monetary solicitors.”

In effect, the proposed changes would enable Atlanta buskers - which includes musicians as well as other performers such as, say, mimes and balloonists - to continue performing in the proper “time, place and manner.” They would be allowed to perform near those buildings, provided that they stood more than 15 feet away from the entrance or exit of a residence, business, event space, or athletic facility.

Meanwhile, other parts of the current panhandling ordinance that pertain to aggressive panhandlers would still apply. But the specific acts associated with busking such as playing an instrument, having a sign asking for money, or leaving one’s case open would remain legal, allowing street performers to continue their craft.

The ordinance will be discussed later today during City Council’s Public Safety Committee starting at 3 p.m.