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House panel to vote on “aggressive panhandling” ban

A panhandler.
C Tanti
flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

A state House committee could vote tomorrow on a bill to create a crime of “aggressive panhandling.” The legislation would forbid begging for money near banks and ATMs. It would also forbid threatening or offensive language and gestures. And it would require a panhandler to stop asking if someone communicates it’s not welcome.

State Rep. Mike McCready, R-Bloomfield Hills, sponsored the bill. He says the goal is rein in the growing number of panhandlers.

“And educate our residents about not handing them money, but rather supporting the local shelters or drug and rehab centers where these people can go and get the help that they need.”

McCready’s bill would replace state and local anti-begging laws that have been struck down as violations of free speech.  

The American Civil Liberties Union says this legislation also violates the Constitution. Dan Korobkin with ACLU-Michigan says there are already laws against harassment and threatening behavior, and this targets people who are poor.

“You know, it’s not a crime to be poor,” said Korobkin. “It’s not a crime to ask for help. And it’s not a crime when you’re on the sidewalk to ask somebody a question."

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.