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City Council Passes Anti-Panhandling Measure

"The focus is on the methods used and not the act."

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Amid protests outside Boise City Hall Sept. 17, the Boise City Council voted 3-1 to enact a measure designed to curb aggressive panhandling. Tensions in the council chamber rose such that one attendee, following the passage of the ordinance, rose from his seat, delivering an impassioned speech borne of frustration before being escorted from the chamber.

"I've gone through your bullshit for three fucking meetings and I just want to tell the four of you that you're classist pigs," the protestor said.

Council Members Maryanne Jordan, T.J. Thompson and Ben Quintana voted in favor of the ordinance. Lauren McLean voted against it.

""It was clearly misunderstood," said Mayor Dave Bieter about ORD-34-13, loosely known as the Public Solicitation Ordinance, which replaced the so-called Aggressive Solicitation; Interference with Pedestrian Ordinance.

The Public Solicitation Ordinance repeals City Code Title 6, Ch. 1, Section 7 and prohibits solicitation for donations colored by intimidation, obstruction of right-of-way or repeated attempts at solicitation after a negative response in designated areas or on public transportation.

However the ordinance stops short of prohibiting "passive" solicitation, such as holding a sign "without orally addressing the request to any specific person."

Penalties include infractions and citations for non-aggressive appeals for solicitations include infractions and citations. Aggressive panhandling, as defined by the ordinance, may strapped with a misdemeanor offense.

"This decriminalizes a whole lot of this activity [panhandling]," said Bieter.

Attendees, many of whom protested outside City Hall prior to the meeting and entered the council chamber singing anti-oppression songs, were unconvinced, worried that the ordinance disproportionately and unfairly targeted the homeless and buskers.

Council Member Lauren McLean, who voted against the ordinance, agreed.

"What I see happening is us pushing a problem from the downtown core to the fringes. The balance doesn't work for me and that's why I'm voting against this tonight," she said.

Council Member Maryanne Jordan, who voted in favor, observed that the new law distinguishes between the varieties of public solicitation.

"The new ordinance has reduced the initial touch to a warning, then an infraction, then a misdemeanor," she said.

For Council Member T.J. Thompson, the ordinance is a parsing of the mode of solicitation, rather than a condemnation of panhandling.

"The focus is on the methods used and not the act," he said.

Boise Weekly has followed the development of proscriptions against panhandling in recent months. For information about what services the city provides its homeless population, click here. For information about the origins of the ordinance, try here.

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