House gives initial approval to bill limiting panhandling

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State Sen. John Kavanagh's bill would make it a petty offense to panhandle in any way that basically makes people feel uncomfortable. (Source: 3TV) State Sen. John Kavanagh's bill would make it a petty offense to panhandle in any way that basically makes people feel uncomfortable. (Source: 3TV)
PHOENIX (AP) -

The House gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that would prevent panhandlers from pushing a button at a crosswalk to intentionally stop traffic.


The bill by Republican Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is part of a larger push to criminalize aggressive panhandling.


"These are the little incivilities that drive the middle class out of our cities and make them ghettos," Kavanagh said during a committee hearing.


House Bill 1063 makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor to intentionally push a button at a crosswalk for the purpose of stopping traffic and asking for money. The proposal received initial approval Wednesday and now awaits a formal vote.


In 2013, U.S. District Judge Neil Wake overturned an Arizona law that criminalized panhandling in public. Wake ruled the statute unconstitutional because it violated free speech rights.


Kavanagh said he doesn't want to outlaw panhandling.


"All this bill says is that somebody who wants to panhandle, or sell something commercially, at an intersection with a red light, can't steal your time," he said.


House Bill 1094 criminalizes aggressive solicitation such as begging within 15 feet of an ATM, repeatedly asking for money or touching someone while panhandling.


Kavanagh said aggressive panhandling can cause fear and apprehension.


Opponents said that instead of criminalizing panhandling, government should do more to help homeless men and women get education, mental health treatment and jobs.


"Instead what we end up doing far too many times is we try to push these people further into the shadows, further out of our line of sight so we don't have to deal with these issues," said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix.


Then-Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed similar legislation last year. Brewer questioned what statewide concern the bill was trying to address and called it an issue of local control.


While that bill would have made aggressive panhandling a Class 1 misdemeanor with penalties including six months in jail, House Bill 1094 makes it a petty offense.


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