PROVO -- Provo police say they have done a good job in cleaning up aggressive panhandling on Center Street, but the municipal council believes the problem still exists and are taking measures that could bring a city ordinance, which makes it against the law to hand money out of your car window to a pedestrian while in a lane of traffic.
On Tuesday the council received a briefing from the city's legal department on what options are available. Of concern is the freedom of speech issue that panhandlers have cited in courts throughout the country with the panhandlers winning. Other cities have prohibited passing of money between cars and pedestrians when cars aren't parked. Provo would like to be added to the list. The only way to give money out the window is if the driver pulls over and safely parks their vehicle and then gives the money to the panhandler.
Assistant city attorney Camille White indicated that there would be only a few major and arterial roads that would be affected.
"We can look at the law from health, safety and welfare aspects, but it could infringe on freedom of speech," White said.
Brody Wight, city law clerk, said an appeals courts struck down a state statute that regulated businesses on the sidewalk. The law would have affected things like children's lemonade stands.
What the city is trying to do is narrow the definition and reasons for the ordinance.
"Instead of regulating solicitations, we're regulating transactions," Wight said. "There are also a limited number of roads where it is a safety issue. The ordinance will also control the way business is conducted."
Police spokesman Lt. Matt Siufanua said, "It is clear that pedestrians who walk into a roadway are a hazard. Center Street, which has been cleaned up well, is where they actually blocked traffic."
The city would like to take a multi-pronged approach in getting rid of the problem from legislation to growing flowers in the areas where panhandlers stand, which was done on Center Street.
"People would have to complain as well," Wight said. There is also a concern that once everyone knows the new law, panhandlers will just move to new locations and to neighboring cities, perpetuating the problem throughout the county.
Siufanua said, "as a police department, the appropriate thing to do is wait and see what the city council and mayor do. It's completely up to them."
He said the police will enforce whatever is decided, but as for Center Street, Siufanua said the department is pleased with what has happened.
Councilwoman Laura Cabanilla moved to put the ordinance on the July 30 council agenda; it was approved unanimously by the council.