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Two bills targeting panhandling present in each chamber

The proposed bills would “prohibit an individual from loitering on a public roadway or in the right-of-way of a public roadway.”

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Two bills targeting panhandling have been proposed in both the Alabama Senate and House. 

SB170 sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot was read for the first time last week and is similar to Rep. Reed Ingram’s, R-Montgomery, HB24. HB24 is set to come up for a vote on the House floor. 

The proposed bills would “prohibit an individual from loitering on a public roadway or in the right-of-way of a public roadway.”

Ingram has said previously the legislation was proposed to crack down on panhandling and for public safety and has been quoted saying “panhandling is just not a good image.” 

But there are several distinctions in the bills. Ingram’s bill says law enforcement officers “shall” instruct individuals violating the law to leave the road or right of way before arresting them. It also states that after these instructions are given, no governmental entity shall be responsible for any “subsquent damages, injury, or death suffered by any person as a result of, or in connection with, the violation of subdivision (a) (1).”

Barfoot’s bill indicates that officers “may” instruct individuals to leave the road or right-of-way. The bill also states officers may offer to take individuals loitering to emergency housing facilities in the jurisdiction, if applicable.

Several organizations concerned with poverty, homelessness, and civil rights have spoken out against Ingram’s bill previously. The organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have said the bill would criminalize individuals for being poor further exacerbating their hardships.

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“Criminalizing the solicitation of charitable donations does nothing to advance public safety,” the ACLU said in a statement in opposition to HB24. “Instead, it multiplies already existing barriers for people experiencing homelessness. This can include unaffordable fines and fees, the loss of their freedom through incarceration and a criminal record — all of which are obstacles to obtaining housing and economic security.”

Just last month, U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins ruled that panhandling laws in Montgomery were unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment. Ingram’s and Barfoot’s bills, if passed, will likely see constitutional challenges as well.

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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