Roadside panhandlers in Alabama could go to jail if bill passes

Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 10:11 PM CST

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - An Alabama State Representative is taking action to cut down on roadside panhandlers by pre-filing a bill. If the bill passes it could mean offenders are taken to a homeless shelter or even jail for 24 hours.

Critics say jail might not be the answer. Associate Professor, Dr. Bergeron of UNA explains why the idea of taking offenders to jail has its problems.

“Our jails are overcrowded, you know, routinely, our local jail here is well above 100% capacity, sometimes almost 200%,” Dr. Bergeron said. “That’s not unique in this area of Northwest Alabama.”

Dr. Bergeron explains how even though the bill might have good intentions to protect panhandlers from dangerous street traffic, this could make problems worse.

Representative Reed Ingram, the sponsor of the bill, says it is something that has a lot of support.

“Public outcry has asked that we do something about it. Something to clean it up,” Ingram said. “When you come off of the exit and they’re knocking on your door panhandling, that’s just not a good image.”

Ingram’s bill would prohibit an individual from loitering on a public road or in the right of way of a public road. Ingram says officers would be allowed to take someone panhandling to a homeless shelter or if they are out there regularly, put them in jail for 24 hours.

Local shelter leader, Keith Overholt of the Downtown Rescue Mission in Huntsville explains why this could be a good thing.

“With the point of them being able to stay where they are, I think that a law like this would help them come to a place like The Mission, or Salvation Army or another shelter where they can actually get help,” Overholt said. “By being on the street and panhandling, they’re not really getting help there. We’re just keeping them in the same situation they’re already in.”

Then comes the question of enforcing the law if the bill passes. The Associate Professor at UNA thinks this will only cause headaches for all of those involved.

“At best, I think this would be hard to enforce or implement,” said Dr. Bergeron. “At worst, it potentially could be a tool for targeting specific groups or individuals.”

The next legislative session begins on Mar. 7th.

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