Friday , July 11, 2014 - 3:02 PM
In recent efforts to crack down on panhandling, pols are more apt to spin an argument of public safety rather than stopping a practice that annoys people and makes them feel uncomfortable. The effort to define panhandling curbs as a public safety issue is a reaction to a 2012 U.S. District Court ruling that state laws against panhandling on its own violate free speech rights.
Ogden city is the latest example of safety-first anti-panhandling proposals. Amendments are being proposed to the city’s code to cut down on panhandling. As we have reported, “loitering, demonstrating, picketing, distributing materials, gathering signatures, holding signs, or soliciting and receiving money would be prohibited on roads with two or more lanes of traffic in the same direction and a speed limit of 35 mph or more. The proposal includes roadway shoulders and gutter areas, as well as driveways.” Also, panhandling involving vehicles is disallowed on busy street sidewalks unless the driver is legally parked.
We are opposed to Junction City’s panhandling amendments. The Ogden City Council should reject the amendments when it’s time to vote on them. To us, changing the code is a lot like conducting major surgery on an ailment that requires far less drastic measures. If Ogden has a problem with aggressive or unsafe panhandling, have existing law enforcement do what is needed to make the practice less intimidating or unsafe. That can be done through warnings or issuing infractions. On a civic level, there can be community-oriented efforts to educate residents that directing panhandlers to a shelter or meal center is better than supplying money. It’s undeniable that much of which goes to persons begging on the street feeds their addictions.
Amending the city code to make it far more difficult for persons to beg on the street is targeting the panhandlers, not improving public safety, no matter the explanations of city leaders. Ultimately, these efforts to restrict panhandling by calling it a public safety issue are shortsighted, an effort more devoted to parrying a judicial decision than finding solutions to deal with the occasional problems that result from panhandling.
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