Wednesday, February 12 2014, 07:34 AM MST
Traffic Safety Bill is Really About Panhandlers
(KUTV) House Bill 101 called "Roadway and Sidewalk Safety Amendments" sounds like it's about cars and pedestrians, but it is really about panhandlers.
"You can say it is an anti-panhandling bill and we are not going to walk away from that but it's larger than that," said Representative Jim Nielson, the bill's sponsor. Nielson said the Downtown Alliance approached him about drafting the proposal aimed at curbing the activities of panhandlers. The bill attempts to clarify the current law, which was recently challenged in court after police started cracking-down on panhandlers.
The panhandlers won on free speech grounds. HB 101 tries to fend off panhandlers by tying their activities to safety. The bill would prohibit activities that keep traffic from moving safely and would outlaw things like holding signs or picketing next to a roadway. It also would make it illegal to approach someone aggressively while they are taking money out of a bank or ATM. "That is a public safety concern," said Nielson referring to aggressive panhandlers. Nielsen said many drivers are also afraid to hit panhandlers as they exit the freeway.
Stewart Gollan, a civil rights attorney in Salt Lake, said he sees more potential violations of constitutional rights in HB 101. Gollan is the attorney who fought for the panhandlers in court and won. He said the law already addresses problems that could impede a safe traffic flow. "If what they really want to do is prohibit traffic, they can simply say 'you can't block traffic," he said.
The proposed law would make it easy for officers to arrest or cite any panhandler for holding a sign that asks for money which he said is protected speech. "We don't want the government picking and choosing which messages they are going to allow people to have on the street," Gollan added.
Gollan believes most people feel uncomfortable seeing a person asking for money because it reminds them that people are struggling in our economy. He said even though some panhandlers lie in order to make a living or to feed an addiction, the best way to make them go away is not to give them money.
By Cristina Flores
(Copyright 2014 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)