On Tuesday the Senate County and Municipal Government Committee favorably reported a House bill that would criminalize the act of panhandling.
HB24, sponsored by Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Montgomery, would prohibit an individual from loitering on a public roadway maintained by the state.
Ingram stated the bill was supported by several agencies and was important for public safety due to 800 pedestrians being hit by cars according to 2021-22 data.
“DOT (Department of Transportation) supports this bill,” Ingram said. ALEA (Alabama Law Enforcement Agency) supports this bill. We have been working on this bill for about three months now.”
Under current law the penalty for loitering is a $200 fine and up to 30 days of jail time. Under Ingram’s bill an individual found guilty of loitering a subsequent time will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor worth a fine of $500 dollars and up to three months in jail.
During the meeting Sen. Mericka Coleman stated her hesitancy with the bill because she feared it may negatively impact impoverished people. But Coleman added she had a sense of relief with the provision that law enforcement can take individuals to housing shelters if needed.
“You know the first thing that came out of my mouth when I looked at this was oh lord we’re messing with the poor folks,” Coleman said.
Alabama Arise has stated that HB24 is a harmful bill that criminalizes poverty and the real solution should be investing in housing programs.
Back in March a federal judge struck down Alabama laws that targeted panhandling and ruled that the legislation was unconstitutional.
Sen. Kirk Hatcher asked Ingram if the bill would clear any hurdles that the federal ruling has presented. Ingram responded saying, “this bill has nothing to do with the ruling.”
Exceptions will be made for individuals holding fundraisers, attending parades, masquerade events, educational, religious or historical gatherings.
The bill will move to the full Senate to be debated and voted upon.