Opponents of panhandling restrictions being considered by the Seattle City Council said at a Wednesday news conference the bill is based on faulty data and will unfairly affect the poor and people of color.
Opponents of panhandling restrictions being considered by the Seattle City Council said Wednesday that the bill is based on faulty data and would unfairly affect the poor and people of color.
Councilmember Nick Licata, along with representatives from 15 groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, and local homeless newspaper Real Change, said supporters on the council are ignoring a harshly critical April 6 Seattle Human Rights Commission report.
The Wednesday news conference was a last-ditch effort by bill opponents. The council is scheduled to act Monday, and Licata appears to be the only no vote.
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Councilmember Tim Burgess proposed the ordinance in February with support from the downtown business community, police chief and some social-service providers.
The law would make it a civil infraction to solicit in an intimidating way. The bill lists likely places for intimidation, such as near ATMs and parking pay stations.
Burgess cited increased street crime downtown and surveys that show people fear panhandlers.
The commission report says the data doesn’t prove a panhandler-crime connection, and the law wouldn’t affect most panhandling.
Burgess met with commissioners and took part in a forum the group held. He says the law would make streets safer for everyone, including nonaggressive panhandlers and poor people.
Shankar Narayan of the ACLU of Washington said making the violation a civil infraction means people who get a $50 ticket for aggressive panhandling won’t have access to an attorney. If they don’t go to court or pay the fine, they could end up with a misdemeanor for failure to appear, he said.
He and other opponents argued the city should instead do more to provide services for the poor.
“This city, during a substantial economic downturn, is more willing to ignore the poor and the conditions that lead to poverty than to focus on what really needs to change,” said James Bible, president of the Seattle/ King County NAACP. “Some people can’t afford food, but we’re going to write them a $50 ticket when they ask for $1.”
Proponents of the legislation, including the Downtown Seattle Association and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, say the troubled economy is reason to make sure people aren’t afraid to go downtown and that groups aren’t turned off from bringing conventions to town.
Bible said the business community isn’t doing itself any favors by publicizing panhandling as a problem.
“They’re busy promoting fear of what’s downtown,” he said.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org