HB161: Utah passes anti-panhandling bill

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The American flag flies above the Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Utah Legislature is one of the more conservative state legislatures in the country. (Porter Chelson)

The Utah State Legislature recently passed a bill that prohibits panhandling in or along high-speed roads.

Although the bill does not specifically mention panhandlers, HB161 prohibits “the transfer of money or property between a pedestrian and an occupant of a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is within certain roadways.”

A similar bill making panhandling completely illegal in Utah was proposed in 2012, but deemed unconstitutional by the Utah Courts for impeding on panhandlers’ freedom of speech.

HB161 only restricts panhandling in or along roadways with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or higher and will not affect panhandlers along many city roads or outside of grocery stores.

Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said he is not trying to punish people asking for money. The bill he has drafted for legislation this year is worded to focus on its true aim: public safety.

“We’re simply saying, ‘If you’re going to exchange property, do it in a safe area,'” Eliason said to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. “If the vehicle is legally parked, there is not an issue with this.”

The bill also affects the Professional Firefighters of Utah who will no longer legally be able to walk in the roadways to collect donations from stopped cars for their “Fill the Boot” campaign, which raises money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

BYU Adlab students got creative and created a Venmo campaign December 2016 that provided a new way for people to donate and help the homeless electronically.

People can search for @FoodandCare on Venmo to donate money, and all funds go to the Food and Care Coalition, a Provo organization that feeds homeless people daily.

Wilsynn Wheat, one of the BYU students who created the campaign, said the idea started off as a joke. They wished they could just Venmo homeless people when they saw them on the streets.

“The video we posted on Facebook currently has over 83,000 views, and it’s raised over $5,000 for the homeless shelter,” Wheat said. “It’s still raising money, slowly but surely, so we’re able to see people are continuing to donate.”

BYU Adlab students partnered with the Food and Care Coalition to provide a way for citizens to Venmo money directly to the Coalition, benefiting homeless people. (Food and Care Coalition)

People caught handing out or accepting money in the roadways will be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $100 depending on the number of offenses.