City Hall

Burgess Amends Panhandling Legislation ... Again

By Erica C. Barnett April 5, 2010

This post has been updated.

City Council member Tim Burgess has amended his aggressive panhandling ordinance—again—to "clear up misunderstandings, provide more clarity and require an annual assessment by the City Attorney and Chief of Police on the effectiveness of the measure."

The main change is, once again, to the provision barring panhandlers from asking people for money while they're using a parking pay station or ATM, which Burgess has changed repeatedly in response to charges that it's overbroad and confusing.

The original version of the bill would have prohibited asking anyone for money who happened to be standing within 15 feet of a pay station or ATM. The second version clarified that panhandlers will only be barred from asking people for money while they're using an ATM or parking pay station "from within 15 feet" of the person. Critics complained that the revised provision created a "bubble of protection" around a person even after they've left the ATM. That brings us to the latest version, which clarifies even further to prohibit "soliciting any person who is using an automated teller machine (ATM) or a public or private parking pay station" in a way that makes that person feel intimidated or threatened.

Also today, representatives from half a dozen human services organizations, including Plymouth Housing Group, the Downtown Emergency Service Center, and Union Gospel Mission, wrote a letter to the city council supporting Burgess' proposal. "Some have suggested in public testimony before the Council that the ordinance is 'anti-homeless' or designed to 'target the poor,'" they wrote. "We couldn’t disagree more with these characterizations. We support this ordinance because it strikes a balance between protecting rights and restricting intimidating and aggressive behavior."

According to a Downtown Seattle Association poll released today, 77 percent of respondents supported Burgess' proposal, and and 65 percent were alarmed by aggressive panhandling downtown.

The latest version of the ordinance also:

• Stipulates that only police officers can make arrests or issue citations for aggressive solicitation;

• Requires the chief of police and city attorney to prepare an annual report on the effectiveness of the ordinance; and

• Clarifies the definition of "intimidating conduct" to "conduct that makes a reasonable person fearful or feel compelled to give money or another item of value."

City Council member Nick Licata, an opponent of the ordinance, sent out an email this afternoon saying he would propose two amendments to the proposal. The first amendment would delay its implementation until the city finds funding to add additional police foot patrols; the second would delay implementation until the city improves outreach services to homeless Seattle residents.

"If the legislation were to go forward without these amendments, the City will be offering only a false sense of increased security against crime without a longer term solution to reducing the need for panhandling on our streets," Licata wrote.

The city council's public safety committee will discuss and possibly vote on the panhandling ordinance this Wednesday at 9:30 am. Burgess hasn't yet returned a call for comment.
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