Committee sends bill targeting aggressive panhandling to full Senate

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 2015 8:34 p.m. MDT

Mark McGregor waves to motorists as he asks for help in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Mark McGregor waves to motorists as he asks for help in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — After only 15 minutes of discussion, a Senate committee unanimously voted to recommend a bill that would prohibit aggressive panhandling that impedes traffic on certain roads.

HB101 would also make it illegal to solicit on sidewalks within 10 feet of an ATM or bank entrance.

"In general terms, what the bill does is it establishes that on a busy roadway, the space designed for cars, the place between the curbs belongs to cars and not pedestrians. And other than on a crosswalk or a place designed for pedestrians, they're not to be there with any activity," said bill sponsor Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, adding that the focus is on traffic safety.

The bill mentions panhandling specifically, but it also applies to demonstrations, politicians waving signs and firefighters' fill-the-boot campaigns, Nielson said.

In 2012, a federal judge struck down similar legislation passed in 2010 for being overly broad. HB101 is more narrow and would prohibit traffic-impeding conduct on interstates, state highways, medians and ramps to get on and off the freeway.

The ACLU of Utah voiced concerns about the bill, saying streets and sidewalks are public forums and belong to the people.

"The First Amendment protects the people's right to go into the street and to go onto the sidewalks and engage in free speech activities," said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah.

A House committee narrowly endorsed the bill last month and amended the bill to allow for “temporary spontaneous demonstrations.”

The Downtown Alliance requested the bill, Nielson said. Activities that create danger or drive people away from businesses should not be supported, he said.

"The point of the bill is that we should not in any way encourage activity that simply fills the addictions of individuals that are claiming homelessness when donations that are made could be made to organizations that can make a difference in their lives," Nielson said.

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