State Rep. Reed Ingram (R-Pike Road) is trying to end people loitering on public roadways, which he said has been an ongoing issue in his district.
His pre-filed bill, 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 individuals 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.
"The roads are designed for cars; they aren't designed for people," Ingram said. "It's pretty obvious what's going on in Montgomery. It's just getting more and more people standing beside the road begging for money," Ingram said. "When it gets to where they're standing in the road, in the turning lanes, when there's four lanes or six lanes of traffic on the bypass, we've heard of people getting run over."
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.
"You don't know the intent on some of these people. I encountered a person trying to break into a girl's car, and I had to go to court to testify as a witness but ended up helping the police to take the man down, and he was on drugs," Ingram said. "The guy was asking for more than money when he was knocking on her door and trying to get into her car, pulling on her door handles. So, it's just not a good combination."
"A lot of times, these people may be on drugs or have mental health issues, so it's for their safety to be off of the road and for the liability of the person who runs into them because it's night or distracted drivers, or they just think they can get across traffic before that comes," he continued. "So, the motivation is to save lives and to safe people from having to go to jail because they hit somebody, and the liability is on them."
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.
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