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Mineola trustees pass law outlawing aggressive panhandling in village

Officials say most instances occur near the LIRR station. The law takes effect immediately, and violators face jail time and fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.

The Village of Mineola passed a law Wednesday that outlaws aggressive panhandling, making it the second village on Long Island to pass such legislation.

Village trustees voted 3-0 to pass the measure, which states that “no person shall aggressively panhandle within the Village of Mineola.” Officials said the majority of panhandling takes place at the village's LIRR station, near NYU Winthrop Hospital.

The law takes effect immediately. Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira and trustee George Durham were absent.

The village planned to pass the law in May, but trustees heard opposition from the Central Islip-based Empire Justice Center, which said the proposed law singled out the homeless, those with low to moderate incomes and people of color. Those concerns prompted Mayor Scott Strauss to table the vote for 60 days to allow the public to submit written comments about the law.

Village Clerk Joseph Scalero said Wednesday that no additional comments were submitted.

The law's passage is disappointing, said Don Friedman, managing attorney for the Empire Justice Center's Long Island office. 

"There was no compelling evidence that [aggressive panhandling] was a problem in the village," Friedman said Thursday. "The mayor said something about this being proactive, but really, it just wasn't called for." 

Still, Friedman said he predicts that the people who will most likely be penalized under the law "are a mix of some very poor, likely homeless, and maybe with some level of disability, whether it's physical or mental, and people moreso in need of services, not criminalization."

Strauss said Wednesday that trustees passed the law to stamp out overly aggressive behavior, such as following someone or repeatedly asking for money, not to criminalize the homeless. 

"It's about how you ask," he said, referring to the panhandlers. "Don’t pester people. If they say no, leave them alone, let them go about their way and you go yours.”

Strauss said the idea for the legislation resulted from conversations he had late last year with advocates for the homeless and Nassau County police. 

"They all agreed that this law could benefit the residents of Mineola and the commuters as well," he said.

Violators will be fined $1,000 for the first offense, $3,000 for a second offense and $5,000 for three or more offenses within a five-year period. In addition, each offense could be accompanied by 15 days in jail.

In October, the Village of Patchogue passed what trustees said was the first ban on aggressive panhandling on Long Island. 

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