In an attempt to bring his bill in line with the law, City Council Member Tim Burgess has amended his proposal to fine aggressive solicitors. (He amended it earlier this month, too.) The bill gets its first committee meeting tomorrow morning—and it’s expected to draw a large crowd.
Previously, the bill defined “intimidating conduct," a criterion for a violation, as behavior that "puts a reasonable person in immediate fear of harm or loss." The new language (.pdf) clarifies that “intimidating conduct” is any behavior that “makes a reasonable person fearful or feel compelled to give money or another item of value.” Burgess’s office say this change makes the proposed law—which fines violators $50—jibe with existing law. The city already has an aggressive begging law on the books (punishable by jail) that uses the same language, which was upheld by a federal court.
While this change appears legally solid, critics say that it raises questions whether the law is even necessary. “Why are they bothering with this at all, because the existing law already covers it?” says Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change.
The city council’s Public Safety & Education Committee meets tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall to discuss Burgess's proposed ordinance. Public comment is slated to begin at 10:10 a.m. and run for one hour.
Both sides of the debate are expected to bring their supporters in droves. On one side, advocates representing civil liberties and homeless groups believe the proposal is vague and unnecessary, catching too many people in its net. The ACLU of Washington has generated hundreds of emails to City Council members in the last 24 hours opposing the measure. On the other side, the Downtown Seattle Association and some social service providers say it will make downtown feel safer. More information is in an article we published last week. Says Harris: "Lawyers on both sides are reading this in fairly diametrically opposed ways."