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NOTE: THIS INCLUDES AN UPDATE FROM MONDAY APRIL 19
By City Councilmember Nick Licata.
Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.
MONDAY PANHANDLING VOTE
The City Council voted 5-4 Monday, April 19 to approve the aggressive solicitation ordinance (C.B. 116807). In my previous UP #289 I gave a lengthy description of it:
After today’s vote I thanked the Mayor for his agreement to veto the Bill.
According to the City Charter, if the Mayor disapproves the bill, he must do so within 10 days of the Council’s passage of the bill. After that the Council, not less than five days nor more than 30 days, after the Mayor’s veto, must reconsider and vote. If the bill, at that time fails to receive an affirmative vote of two-thirds of all the members it shall be deemed finally lost.
In addition to thanking the Mayor, I thank my Council colleagues and the many organizations and members of the public that have engaged so thoughtfully on this debate.
Seattle is a compassionate city; emails have been running 6-1 against passing this bill. If it is enacted as a new law, the actions of people who panhandle to support themselves would be scrutinized, when we should be focusing on the actions of people who are breaking existing laws.
At the Public Safety Committee meeting I voted against the legislation. Councilmembers Bagshaw and Conlin supported Burgess’s bill and voted affirmatively. The final vote for the bill was delayed one week, which is customary when the vote is not unanimous at the Committee level. There was some discussion to fast track it, but thanks go to Councilmembers Bruce Harrell and Mike O’Brien for agreeing with me that we should follow the usual procedure and wait a week.
In that week, the general public became more aware of the legislation. The ACLU sent out a bulletin opposing it and the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) sent out one in support, asking their supporters to contact the four Councilmembers who had not yet (at that juncture) publically taken a position: Mike O’Brien, Bruce Harrell, Tom Rasmussen and Jean Godden.
Also the Human Rights Commission issued their report opposing this legislation. In particular they noted “Contrary to proponents’ claims that the ordinance offers the “lightest and most effective response,” (i.e., a civil infraction) to aggressive solicitation, it places indigent offenders in greater danger of criminal outcomes and simultaneously limits their access to legal representation that would help protect them from those outcomes.”
Subsequently the NAACP, four district Democratic organizations (34th, 36th, 37th, and 46th), and another 15 organizations are now out opposing the bill. State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36), State Senator Joe McDermott (D-34), former Seattle Councilmember Jim Street, and King County Council Member Larry Gossett have all said they oppose it this bill. Last month, the Seattle Community Council Federation (18 community councils) voted unanimously last month to oppose it too.
I understand the frustration that downtown businesses face in this recession. In this tough economy, with vacant store fronts and half empty office buildings, some downtown businesses and residents, look around and might say, “Hey at least let’s get rid of the panhandling, that’s something we can do.”
But panhandlers aren’t causing this recession; they are the product of this recession. And aggressive panhandling has actually decreased over the past two years. We have laws against it. Our court records clearly show they are enforced and the offenders are prosecuted.
I believe that this ordinance will create a false sense of security; it does not address major crimes, few if any are associated with panhandling. And while it implies that panhandling will be abolished – it won’t be. In the end, those who are the most vulnerable on the streets will punished by a law that is vague at best and most likely to be applied subjectively to those that annoy others with their begging.
Tacoma is cited as a city that passed even more stringent legislation and it worked. Their Police Department records actually show that complaints have increased since passage of the law. In 2008, the Tacoma Police department received 274 calls for service to report panhandling complaints, up from 241 in 2007. Tacoma’s law was passed in 2007. And San Francisco also passed a similar law and has spent millions enforcing it over the years. The results do not reveal any less panhandling, but there is an increase in costs in the judicial system and more police are being used to arrest panhandlers, who may have spent their time working to reduce serious crime.
Lastly, the Mayor at a public forum said he does not support the legislation and would consider vetoing it.
Monday’s Full Council meeting is at 2pm and if you cannot attend is covered live by the Seattle Channel.
COUNCIL MEMBERS & MAYOR’S EMAIL ADDRESSES
Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office. http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm