Last week, City Council Member Tim Burgess proposed an anti-solicitation ordinance intended to reduce the prevalence of aggressive panhandling in Seattle. Among the provisions, soliciting a person within 15 feet of someone using an ATM or parking pay station would be a civil infraction. Burgess clarified that controversial legislation yesterday (.pdf), according to a member of his staff, to apply to "soliciting from within 15 feet any person who is using an automated teller machine (ATM) or a public or private parking pay station."

But the ordinance would still cast a wide net. The bill, which goes before the city council's Public Safety & Education committee later this month, would also prohibit solicitation within 15 feet of a person "immediately before or after conducting a transaction at an ATM or parking pay station, is handling in plain view any money, bank card, receipt, check or other document related to the transaction." The result: Anyone carrying a little parking sticker down the block to his or her vehicle would have a 15-foot bubble around them.

And there are a lot of public parking pay stations downtown. Here is a map of them downtown (this map doesn't include private parking pay stations or ATMs). Each little orange dot indicates a 15-foot radius. Click for a larger image.


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It's worth noting that Seattle already has a law on the books that criminalizes aggressive begging as a misdemeanor (but it doesn't specify the many places where the offense is banned). Burgess's law would create another classification—a civil infraction, punishable by a $50 fine, applying to beggars, Girl Scout Cookie sellers, and Salvation Army bell-ringers alike—that raises a question. Would homeless beggars be able to pay a $250 fine? If they did, wouldn't that require them to, you know, beg a whole lot more?

Violators who fail to pay the fine would be "guilty of a misdemeanor regardless of the disposition of the notice of civil infraction," Burgess's proposed ordinance says. Then violators become a problem for courts, jails, and/or social services. The bill doesn't allocate money to pay for more more law enforcement or additional social services.