Utah lawmakers consider additional regulations on panhandling

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah legislators are considering a bill that would restrict where panhandlers could ask people for money, but some critics argue the proposed legislation goes too far or is unconstitutional.

House Bill 101 is sponsored by Rep. Jim Nielson, R-District 18, and the bill would keep panhandlers clear of state roadways and prohibit them from aggressively approaching someone near a bank or ATM.

“They’ve seen increasing problems with people coming right up to vehicles and stop signs and large roads where they’re about to leave, impeding a right turn when a person is in the way,” Nielson said of the issue.

At a committee meeting held Wednesday, homeless advocates pointed out that 70 percent of panhandlers are homeless, and they said some use the money for drugs and alcohol.

Marina Lowe with the ACLU of Utah said she doesn’t find fault with the intent of the bill, but she said the way it is crafted would limit demonstrations, protests and protected free speech on state roads.

“It’s basically prohibiting any behavior which could potentially impede traffic and then lists sort of by definition behaviors that impede traffic as being classic examples of expressive activity protected under the First Amendment,” Lowe said.

Nielson said changes to the way the bill is written could be made to allow cities to create a permit process for those kinds of expressive activities. He said he plans to make changes to the bill to reflect that.

The House Transportation Committee approved the bill by a 5-4 vote, and the bill will now go before the full House of Representatives.