No more handouts: City cracking down on panhandling
A new West Jordan ordinance makes it illegal for vehicle occupants to give money or other goods to panhandlers from certain lanes of traffic. (Pixabay)
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West Jordan drivers may now receive a citation for giving panhandlers money or other goods from a lane of traffic.
The city council added this provision to city code in hopes of preventing frustration and crashes that occur when drivers stop in areas where they should remain attentive and in motion.
"I don't know of any hard statistics, but in my ride-alongs with police and public works [employees], it seems there are frequent slowdowns and many near misses when panhandling is present,” said Councilman Chris McConnehey in a Facebook comment. “You get cars that expect traffic to be flowing; however, you have another vehicle stopped at an intersection waiting to give cash to a panhandler … I think most panhandlers are pretty good at playing Frogger; however, we have a fair number of drivers that aren't expecting the sudden change to flow of traffic, and that causes problems.”
McConnehey noticed signs in Medford, Oregon, that notified travelers of the city’s law to avoid stopping a moving vehicle to distribute goods to a pedestrian, and thought West Jordan could benefit from a similar law, so he brought it to the attention of other city leaders. The attorney’s office drafted a provision that the city council passed in a 6–1 motion at its Jan. 25 meeting.
West Jordan’s new law is also not limited to panhandling, though that was the major example explored at the Jan. 25 meeting. The law applies to any exchange of personal property between pedestrians and vehicles on highways and collector and arterial streets.
According to West Jordan’s new law, the giver and the receiver are violators and “shall be guilty of a class C misdemeanor”—an offense that could include up to 90 days in jail or a fine of up to $500. But city attorney David Brickey said it’s unlikely anyone will serve any time for encroaching on this ordinance.
“It is my experience that Judge (Ronald) Kunz will typically look for compliance,” Brickey said about the city’s justice court judge who will review these cases, should there be any. “He doesn’t typically ask for jail time. He looks for a way to try to change behavior.”
Councilman Jeff Haaga was the lone council member to oppose the motion.
“We are creating a criminal of somebody who is probably down on their luck and then a charitable person that might be in a vehicle, that might just be giving them a blanket to stay warm,” Haaga said.
Councilman Alan Anderson agreed to vote in favor of the ordinance after clarifying that the ordinance still allowed people to give money and goods to pedestrians so long as the driver pulled over to the side of the road.
“Irrespective of how much good you are intending to do, if you are running through an intersection, like right through the middle of 7000 South and Bangerter (Highway), you could cause a whole lot of problems,” McConnehey said, defending his proposed amendment to code. “If you are out of the roadway, it’s not a problem.”
Councilman Zach Jacob said he originally had reservations about the ordinance but changed his mind.
“It doesn’t prohibit people being down on their luck and people being charitable,” he said. “It just prohibits the dangers that that can cause. I think this was very well done.”
The council directed city staff to create signage for local roads that will alert the public of the change.
The ordinance change is similar to HB 161, a bill being discussed in the current legislative session. If the bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, passes it will prohibit the transfer of money or property between a pedestrian and an occupant of another vehicle on all Utah roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or higher.