The Spokane City Council voted 6-1 on Monday to outlaw aggressive panhandling in a portion of the city despite calls for allowing people to continue to beg for handouts.
Council members said that panhandlers who go into the street to collect cash pose a public safety hazard.
“Ultimately, it came down to an issue of safety for me,” said Councilman Mike Allen, who took the lead in developing the law.
The original ban proposal would have affected the entire city but could have outlawed at least two annual community fundraising efforts – the Spokane Guilds’ School penny drive and the local firefighter Fill the Boot campaign.
Council members voted 5-2 in favor of an amendment to draw a smaller boundary for prohibiting aggressive panhandling, which will allow the community events to continue.
The law will be enforced south of Boone Avenue, west of Hamilton Street, north of Seventh Avenue and east of the Maple-Ash corridor on major arterials, including state highway routes.
In addition, the law will be in effect at interchanges along the entire Interstate 90 corridor inside the city of Spokane.
Council members Mike Fagan and Steve Salvatori voted against the smaller area.
Salvatori in turn voted to adopt the amended ordinance because having panhandling restricted in a quarter of the city was better than no restrictions at all, he said.
Council members sat through more than two hours of testimony from a packed council chamber.
Opponents decried the measure in a series of chalk sidewalk protest messages outside. A boy in a wheelchair apparently affiliated with the Guilds’ School carried a cardboard sign that read, “I am not a beggar.”
Three women sang their testimony in the form of a hymn entitled “Live Free.”
One man was ordered out of the council chamber after he stood up and started shouting about how “you give us moldy food.”
State Sen. Lisa Brown, who opposed the ordinance, submitted written testimony read to the council by a staff member in which she argued that the council was going to “criminalize the simple act of begging.”
Council members pointed out that asking for handouts from a sidewalk or parking area without stepping into traffic would still be legal.
Activist Dave Bilsland called the measure “class warfare on indigent” people.
Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said she does not hand out money to panhandlers because she has no way of knowing whether it will be well-used. She said that giving directly to any number of Spokane charities is a better way to help the poor.
Council President Ben Stuckart said he was initially against the proposal but changed his mind after talking to community leaders who work with the poor and homeless. He said panhandlers in Spokane are generally not clients for local homeless services.
Allen said the new law will allow the city to identify the panhandlers and get them referred to those services.
“It does give us an enforcement tool,” he said.