A bill, currently being considered in the Louisiana state legislature, would, if passed, outlaw panhandling and make it an offense punishable by up to six months in jail.
Think Progress reports that House Bill 1158 would make “solicitation” a misdemeanor that could also carry a $200 dollar fine. The bill takes aim at hitchhikers and those engaged in prostitution as well.
Democratic state Rep. Austin Badon wrote the bill. He said in a recent interview that he doubts those who are begging on the streets of the state’s cities are actually in need.
“They’re paying their cell phone bills, they’re paying their computer bills. It’s a racket,” Badon said.
That’s a common argument but a recent study, conducted in San Francisco, found that most panhandlers in that city make only $25 per day and 94 percent of them said they spend what little they do make on food rather than drugs or alcohol.
Badon’s bill passed the Louisiana House of Representatives by a vote of 89-0 and with no floor debate.
A recent article in the Times-Picayune pointed out that cities like New Orleans already have laws on the books that prohibit begging or "the unauthorized solicitation for money or anything of value by any person.” Badon argues his bill would only enhance such ordinances.
He said his bill is a response to a call from law enforcement officers to help them crack down on prostitution.
"They needed something to be able to stop (prostitutes), question them and find out what they're doing,” he said.
By banning solicitation of money or even car rides, Badon’s proposal would allow officers to step in and break up observed patterns of prostitution. Badon said his legislation would allow prostitutes to be “hassled by the cops” forcing them to stop their activities.
Although the bill appears to have momentum in the legislature, a similar law was struck down last year by the the Louisiana State Supreme Court according to The Advocate. That ruling upheld a lower court’s decision stating that another of New Orleans’ anti-begging ordinances was unconstitutional and had been for years.
Orleans Parish Criminal District Judge Arthur Hunter shot down the ordinance citing a 1984 ruling from a federal court that said the city was “overboard” in its application of the law.
Despite the past rulings, Badon’s bill will be considered by the Senate sometime this week.