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Bill seeks to restrict panhandling

First Published Feb 12 2014 04:39 pm • Last Updated Feb 12 2014 10:07 pm

The panhandlers that stand along freeway off-ramps and along other busy roadsides could be forced to relocate under legislation making its way through the Utah Legislature.

Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, is sponsoring HB101 that would prohibit panhandling along state roads or ramps where there are not sidewalks.

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Nielson said the panhandlers create safety issues for drivers who have to deal with traffic congestion created and for the panhandlers themselves.

"People will not come to where they do not feel safe and if we do not do anything we will see a continued corrosion of our urban centers," Nielson said.

Homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson estimated that 70 percent of panhandlers are not actually homeless and are soliciting money to support drug or alcohol habits.

But Marina Lowe, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill doesn’t just apply to panhandlers. It also would restrict demonstrations, rallies and other activities protected by the First Amendment.

"I think this bill goes about remedying the problem in the wrong way," she said.

Jason Mathis of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance said many don’t think the bill goes far enough, but he believes it has "struck exactly the right balance in terms of First-Amendment protection and safety concerns."

The bill was approved by the House committee and moves to the full body for consideration.

— Robert Gehrke

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