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Despite hearing from a roomful of passionate protesters, the Salt Lake City Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to continue debating and perhaps approve Mayor Ralph Becker's controversial crackdown on aggressive panhandling.
Opponents at a Tuesday public hearing ranged from homeless youths, civil libertarians and gay and lesbian advocates, to religious leaders from six different capital churches.
"I actually panhandled just to get here because I wanted to make sure I got my voice out there," said Renae Allen, who asked how destitute residents really could be expected to pay a $150 fine.
"Panhandling is not just a homeless issue," added LuAnne Stevenson, "it's a low-income issue."
Most in attendance argued the proposed ordinance criminalizes poverty, could land the city in court, and could prove particularly cruel to the mentally ill, disabled and "street kids" already wracked with challenges.
"We can't reach a community we can't see," said Maren Lacy, co-captain of Justice Vanguard. "The further we drive this community underground, the worse we make the situations."
Becker's once-amended proposal seeks to establish time, place and manner restrictions rather than an outright panhandling ban. It would bar begging within 10 feet of ATMs, churches, bus and transit stops and people gathered in lines or at street cafes. It also would prohibit grabbing people, following them, using profanity or panhandling after dark.
The administration insists the measure, which carries a class B misdemeanor for violators, is on sound legal footing. It took its cue from downtown merchants who complain that increasingly brazen begging is driving away business.
"I can tell you many stories about small merchants, restaurateurs that have had to call officers," said Amy Coady with the Downtown Merchants Association. "It's unfortunate ... But it is part of what's going on downtown. This will help our community be a positive, safer place for everyone."
Yet others insisted the city already has sufficient laws on the books.
An attempt to kill the ordinance by Councilman Soren Simonsen fell one vote shy. "This is not a rule problem," Simonsen said. "This is an enforcement and an education problem."
If it goes on to pass by the same 4-3 margin next month, Simonsen said it will give city leaders a false sense of security "at best."
Councilman Luke Garrott, who was joined in opposition by Jill Remington Love, said the law would inflame animosity. "The civility that we need on the streets," he said, "will not be helped by this ordinance."
But Councilman Carlton Christensen criticized punting as a "political out."
"It's there to help draw a line," added Council Chairman J.T. Martin.
Martin and Christensen were joined in their tentative support by council members Van Turner and Stan Penfold.
In other city business
Through an "expression of support," the council unanimously endorsed the Utah Compact, which seeks to dial down the rhetoric over illegal immigration, and is supported by progressives and religious groups including the LDS Church.