On Thursday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill by State Rep. Reed Ingram (R-Pike Road) to prevent loitering or panhandling on roadways.
House Bill 24 (HB24) would prohibit loitering on a public roadway or right-of-way. The bill would also remove the prohibition on pedestrians soliciting employment, business, contributions or distributing articles on a highway.
According to Ingram, problems in Montgomery motivated him to file the bill.
Montgomery and other larger cities in Alabama consistently struggle with people lingering near stop lights and intersections asking for money, typically in high-traffic areas, where the odds of receiving charity are greater. Ingram said these panhandlers could often be aggressive, sometimes blocking or running in front of cars in their efforts.
Ingram said the Alabama Department of Transportation employees encouraged him to file the bill due to statewide reports of homeless people using burn barrels under bridges and overpasses, which can cause a traffic hazard. He also said people standing in roadways to panhandle pose a risk to pedestrians, citing a personal experience when he witnessed a man attempt to enter a woman's car forcibly.
The bill would make loitering on a state highway a violation; only after a second infraction can a person be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. Before making an arrest, a law enforcement officer must instruct anyone in violation to immediately and peaceably exit the area. However, Ingram said he intends to offer a committee amendment requiring officers to offer placement at a shelter or facility providing mental health treatment.
The bill initially struck a portion of the legal code that read, "No person shall stand on a highway for the purpose of soliciting employment, business, or contributions from the occupant of any vehicle, nor for the purpose of distributing any article unless otherwise authorized by official permit of the governing body of the city or county having jurisdiction over the highway."
It also struck a portion that defined loitering as wandering in a public place for the purpose of begging.
State Rep. Susan Dubose (R-Hoover) offered a floor amendment to reinstate the reinstated both portions of the code.
After some brief debate and discussion, the bill unanimously passed the House chamber.
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