Tuesday, August 25, 2009

City-County Council passes panhandling ordinance, again

So, maybe I don't know how this whole legislative process works. But I was under the impression that when the full legislative body votes to send an amendment to an ordinance back to committee, it means that they support it, but have concerns with the wording. So that the committee, which in theory has members that are most familiar with the issues they handle, can re-design it so the full legislative body can pass it.

Last night, the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee voted 5-1 to advance the amended panhandling ordinance as amended to the full council with a recommendation to pass. Not a single word was changed, so unless those lobbying for the ordinance can twist some arms, I don't see why they think it's going to pass this time around.

On and on, citizens and those invited by the council talk about how panhandlers aren't really homeless and are using it on drugs, alcohol, or just collecting tax free money. But that shouldn't be the city's concern. Tax evasion can be handled by the appropriate federal, state, and county agencies. And if they are properly filing taxes, they aren't doing anything illegal.

Public safety was used to justify this a lot, but it sounds more like a fear tactic. There are already laws on the books concerning "aggressive panhandling" from the state, as well as threats, verbal and physical assault, carjacking, rape, and so on.

One of the councilors not on the committee jokingly suggested to make giving money to panhandlers illegal. Many seemed to dismiss it as a stunt, but it doesn't sound like a bad idea. It's not just illegal to sell drugs and to prostitute, but it's also illegal to solicit prostitutes and buy illegal drugs.

Maybe this could pass constitutional mustard if there was anything to protect political speech. But there isn't. Protestors outside of the city county building, the infamous tea parties, those standing outside Planned Parenthood offices, and the pro-life chain that happens downtown every year could all be potentially written up in violation of this ordinance as amended. As amended, a McDonald's by a stoplight could get a fine for having a drive-thru.

It's too bad not a single council member questioned Mr. Vaughn, the councilor proposing this, as to why this is needed to an already existing panhandling ordinance. As reported on Indiana Barrister, arrests for panhandling are up from the previous year, and it's only August!

The sad thing is, this will probably pass. And just like those curfew laws, when some actual poor homeless guy with nothing left to loose, or a pro-life protester or Ron Paul supporter is fined and goes to get their legal defense and sues the city, it'll cost us millions in litigation, and we'll be worse off than if we never did this in the first place.

The solution to the CIB is to throw more money at it. The solution to panhandling is to write more laws and ignore those pesky little rights. But while we're dealing with these supposedly important matters, Indy Parks is facing a $6 million budget cut over 2 years (here) and Winona Hospital and other abandoned buildings still look like crap.

Shows our priorities, doesn't it?

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