Monday, August 31, 2009

star ed board begs for a bad bill

the city's latest panhandling proposal—or i should say, the city's proposed ban on holding signs at intersections—goes up for a vote tonight. the indy star ed board, unsurprisingly, is in favor. also unsurprisingly, their editorial in favor of the ban is weak and unconvincing, and either ignores or brushes aside the many arguments against the proposal.

to begin, they wave away accusations of classism by noting that the head of wheeler mission has spoken in favor of the proposal. this is rhetorically equivalent to i'm not racist: i have a black friend, except in this case the friend isn't even black, but just happens to work with black folks. sorry, but even if we assume that the (unnamed) mission head isn't motivated by classism, that doesn't automatically absolve councillor mcquillen or other supporters.

next, the editorial moves on to the "public safety" argument:

It's not only that aggressive panhandlers occasionally pose a threat to motorists. The ordinance also would stop a common but dangerous practice in which church groups, youth sports teams and others raise money by walking through traffic at busy intersections.

let's take this a sentence at a time, shall we? aggressive panhandlers "pose a threat"? how so, exactly? this is probably a veiled reference to the woman who claimed she was carjacked by a panhandler, but that's not really a panhandling problem—it's a carjacking problem. the proposal won't stop carjackings: it will only inspire carjackers to find some other scam. instead of holding signs, they'll pretend to have a flat tire, or something else.

furthermore, aggressive panhandling is already illegal under the previous panhandling bill that was passed last year! likewise, the "dangerous practice" of walking through traffic is also already illegal under a law that was passed years ago! why do we need a new law when the existing laws aren't being enforced?

what about concerns—discussed on this blog at great length—that the proposal unfairly restricts speech rights of many other groups in addition to panhandlers? those concerns are also brushed aside without a thought:

It's not that council member Michael McQuillen, the sponsor of the ordinance, has anything against Little League teams, any more than he's trying to hurt the homeless. It's simply that the middle of a public street or highway isn't the proper venue to raise money for charities, no matter how worthy the cause.

even if we accept this claim without debate, it still doesn't hold water. okay, fundraising "in the middle of the street" is bad. that covers the nonprofit volunteers who stand on the median accepting donations. but what about the live-sign holder standing on the corner, advertising $5 domino's pizzas? or the person in the statue of liberty costume advertising tax services? they're not walking in traffic or taking donations, but they too would be banned from holding signs near intersections. (some may even lose their jobs.) what about the abortion protesters who seem to peacefully assemble downtown every week or so? what about buskers and other street performers, who freely share their art in exchange for the occasional tip? what about kids holding a car wash for their church group? where are they supposed to advertise their service if not by the side of the street? all of these people would be affected by the ordinance. does any reasonable person believe that they're a public safety menace?

and we haven't even mentioned the problem of selective enforcement.

ultimately, the ed board (and other ordinance supporters) fail to ask themselves the most basic question that should be considered before passing a ban on behavior: do we really need a new law, or can we get the same result by simply enforcing the laws we already have?

the language of the bill is online here (pdf link). i can only hope that the council will come to their senses and vote against it... but with the council dominated by republicans, i don't have much faith in that happening.

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