Following a recent avalanche of opposition to Tim Burgess's aggressive solicitation bill, lawmakers representing Seattle districts are taking a stance against the measure. King County Council Member Larry Gossett says, "I don't see how focusing on aggressive-panhandlers addresses the problem of crime in our city at this time. There are far more important things we can do to create safer streets and a more just society than making panhandlers our scapegoats."
State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36) is also opposed to the measure, in part because the the city already has an aggressive-begging law. A sociologist, Kohl-Welles believes the measure would be enforced selectively, based on a police officer's biases. "Some poeple can get ticketed based on a very subjective perception," she says. "Some groups could have a higher likelihood of being ticked more frequently," Kohl-Welles continues, such as groups of a certain "ethnic heritage, national origin, or physical appearance."
Last night, State Senator Joe McDermott (D-34) voted with the 34th District Democrats to oppose the bill. He says Burgess's bill, which was resoundingly opposed, "leaves a significant amount of discretion up to the officers about what what is intimidating and how actions are perceived."
And former Seattle city council member Jim Street sent a stern letter to the city council today expressing his opposition and urging them to vote against the bill. "It is posed as a solution to a problem it's not going to be a solution to," he says, reached by phone. "It diverts our attention from doing things that really matter for our most needy."
A 12-year veteran of the city council, Street says the bill "gives the impression of pandering to business interests who are concerned about panhandling in general." A King County Superior Court Judge for four years, Street questions if panhandling that some people simply find unpleasant "can be legally addressed here." He adds that the panhandlers he encounters are polite. "Which isn't to say that there aren't aggressive panhandlers." But the council is "spending quite a bit of time" on this and "I just don't think that this is going to change anything."
In addition to three district Democratic organizations and 15 local organizations to oppose the bill this week, the Seattle Community Council Federation—composed of 18 community groups—voted unanimously last month to oppose the bill. The city council will vote on the measure next Monday.
State Representative Eric Pettigrew (D-37), whose district Democrats voted unanimously to oppose the measure on Monday, says he hasn't yet taken a position.
Meanwhile, State Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-36) stands at odds with the 36th District Democrats, who voted last night to oppose the bill. Carlyle believes people in the district Democrats oppose the measure because they have "deep sensitivity to civil liberties." He says the bill—which is the product of years of lobbying by the Downtown Seattle Association and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce—is "reasonable." Asked if his campaign has taken money from the entities backing the bill, he says, "Yeah, I have." Steve Leahy, president and CEO of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, donated to Carlyle's campaign personally. But Carlyle says those contributions aren't the reason he supports the measure.