Boise panhandling vote draws a few angry reactions from crowd

Idaho StatesmanSeptember 17, 2013 

One man in the front row threw down his protest sign, shouted a few obscenities and called City Council members “classist pigs.”

A policeman walked behind him as left the council chambers.

A dozen or so began singing “We Shall Overcome.” The singing continued for several minutes in the lobby outside the chambers after city staff closed the doors and resumed the meeting for discussion of a proposed subdivision on Boise’s eastern edge.

One woman talked about the difficulty of living in low-income housing.

A group of Boy Scouts watched and didn't say much.

This was the crowd's response to a 3-1 council vote to pass a law that will make it illegal to panhandle in an aggressive manner and in other circumstances, such as in a public roadway or near an ATM.

(Click here to watch video of the crowd's post-vote reaction)

Councilwoman Lauren McLean was the only member to vote against the law. She said the law goes too far and could push people who rely on donations out of Downtown. She also wondered about unintended consequences, such as discouraging people from seeking strangers' signatures on petitions.

Council members Maryanne Jordan, Ben Quintana and T.J. Thomson, as well as Mayor David Bieter, said the law will make solicitation safer and Boise more enjoyable.

The Downtown Boise Association's members and board of directors supported the measure, executive director Karen Sander said. Unsafe and aggressive panhandling creates negative perceptions of Boise and is bad for business, Sander said.

Boise man Varlan J. Linnean couldn't disagree more. Linnean said the city should develop peer groups to help panhandlers govern themselves. He said violations of those less formal codes would be subject to criminal prosecution by existing laws.

"The homeless are pretty much a community," Linnean said. "They know each other. They've probably worked together, slept in the same shelters, did this and that together."

A first violation of the new law, which is scheduled to take effect in January, will be an infraction. Subsequent violations within a year will be misdemeanors, which carry much harsher penalties.

All instances of aggressive solicitation will be misdemeanors.

Boise defines aggressive solicitation as “intentionally making any non-consensual physical contact with another person, following the person being solicited with intent to intimidate into giving, continuing to solicit within five feet of a person who has expressed a negative response to the solicitation with intent to intimidate into giving, obstructing the safe or free passage of the person being solicited or (making) any threatening statement or gesture intended to intimidate the person into giving.”

Asking people for money will also be illegal in the following circumstances:

• in any public transportation vehicle

• from people waiting in line

• on private property where “solicitation prohibited” is posted

• from roads or from a vehicle on a road when entering the roadway is necessary to accept the donation

• from pedestrians crossing a road

• within public parking garages

• within 20 feet of an ATM, financial institution, sidewalk cafe, mobile or street vendor on a sidewalk, public restrooms and portable toilets, bus stops, taxi stands, valet stationsand parking pay boxes or stations (not including parking meters that serve one or two spaces)

However, the ordinance allows people to stand or sit on a sidewalk and ask for money with a sign that doesn’t address a specific person.

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