Utah Cracks Down on Panhandlers

One of the best ways to help the beggar…is to fine them $750 for begging.

Fox 13 News reported recently on a new Utah law that will restrict pandhandlers along roadways. The story featured Jennifer Gailey who has been homeless for five years and relies on pandhandling.

Starting on Tuesday, though, the effort could cost her more than she earns, when a new roadway safety law takes effect in the state, essentially banning panhandling on state roads and on-off ramps.

“While it purports to be a traffic safety ordinance or statute, I think it really is an ordinance designed to stop people from panhandling, from asking for money,” said Stewart Gollan, an attorney for the Utah Civil Rights and Liberties Foundation.

Gollan has represented half a dozen panhandlers in lawsuits against cities in the state, which had similar laws. He sees this legislation as no different.

“It’s protected speech and the fact that people may be uncomfortable with the message of speech doesn’t mean it can be prohibited by government,” Gollan said.

But according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, it’s prohibiting anyone from creating a potential traffic problem on state roads.

“It basically discriminates against anyone who chooses to use the roadway in a way it wasn’t intended to be used,” Nielson said.

The law extends past panhandlers, prohibiting anyone from stepping off the public sidewalks and into the middle of the street.

“If you’re there and you’re a politician waving signs or you’re someone seeking to fill the booth for some charity or if you’re someone that’s campaigning, any of those puts someone at rise,” Nielson said. “And we don’t differentiate between those behaviors.”

The Utah legislature is boldly protecting the people of Utah from the poor among them. Clearly, this is a new vision of “no poor among them” for the 21st century.

Nielson states that business groups support the measure. Surprise! We would not want to disturb the shopping trips of the comfortable.

Last week, I wrote about what Mormon scripture teaches about giving to beggars. But who needs scripture when you have the Chamber of Commerce on your side?

12 replies »

  1. A good example of why decent social welfare programs help everyone – not just poor people. Panhandlers could be adequately provided for, and Chamber of Commerce members could have the benefit of never needing to encounter them. This latter benefit never occurs to my libertarian friends.

  2. New York City, bastion of right-wing Republicans that it is, has laws against panhandling in the subways. Those damned heartless Republicans.

  3. Some who would like to punish not only panhandlers but the poor and homeless in general by making their efforts to live on the streets difficult, if not impossible, should have their assets frozen for a few months, their homes and vehicles locked, and try to survive there themselves. Let them make the efforst to feed and find shelter as they can, and see how others see them when, for a time, they become “the least of these” for real. And if there is an indefinite time, decided by others, for this experiment, it will be fair. Let the others be a group of those who regularly provide for the poor as willing benefactors…say, the good priests and nuns at some local Catholic charity, who themselves have taken vows of poverty. Walking in the shoes of another is often a needed lesson to those who have difficulty learning any other way.

  4. Maybe my point was too subtle, Chris. I wasn’t talking about political parties either. Laws limiting panhandling have been adopted in a lot of jurisdictions, whether the general political leaning is liberal or conservative.

  5. Some things poor people do are pathological and should be discouraged, and I suspect panhandling is one of those things. From my observations living in Baltimore and LA, it didn’t seem like a good thing for anyone.

    Chris, you may find interest in the current minimum wage action in Montgomery County, Maryland. MoCo is phasing in a $11.50 minimum wage by 2017, and Maryland’s is going up to $10.10 by 2018. Gaithersburg, a city in the middle of Montgomery County not subject to the county’s wage law, is talking about matching Montgomery County’s minimum wage because of problems that a difference may cause. “Councilman Ryan Spiegel said he worried that if the city chose to opt out, it could become one of the only jurisdictions within the county to have a lower wage, therefore attracting an undesirable amount of minimum wage jobs. “I really don’t want Gaithersburg to end up becoming the magnet or vacuum in the vacuum in the middle of the county for all the lowest wage jobs,’ he said.”

    There are those who worry that raising a minimum wage reduces employment among the poorest, but Councilman Spiegel sees that as a feature, not a bug, and wants to raise the minimum wage to avoid drawing low-wage workers into his city.


    • Mike: I know Gaithersburg well. At least, I did growing up in Olney, MD. I was even in the Gaithersburg Ward for a few years. I am pretty sure Gaithersburg, as a retail center in the area, has no shortage of minimum wage jobs as it is. Either way, it is the bourgeois type of thinking I might expect…even from what my brother calls the Peoples Republic of Montgomery County.

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