People who give spare change to panhandlers in San Antonio could be ticketed under a new proposal by the city's police chief.
The San Antonio Express-News reported it's already illegal to ask for money near crosswalks, bus stops, ATMs and other places because of a 2011 ordinance, but Chief William McManus wants stricter rules. He proposed an ordinance to the City Council's Public Safety Committee on Wednesday that would make giving to panhandlers in the forbidden areas a Class C misdemeanor.
"If it's a crime to panhandle, it should be a crime to give to panhandlers as well," McManus told the committee.
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McManus said aggressive panhandlers sometimes spit on windshields or cause drivers to run red lights. He said there's no way for the department to "arrest its way out of" the problem but he wants to deter people from giving. Once the money dries up, he said, panhandlers will leave the street corners.
Councilman Mike Gallagher applauded the idea and said he often gets complaints about panhandlers. They risk bodily harm by stepping into busy thoroughfares, and they risk injury to drivers who have to avoid them, he said.
Other council members were not as enthused.
"I'm not inclined to unnecessarily regulate citizens' freedoms," said Councilman Joe Krier. "One of those freedoms is to give away money. And another of those freedoms is to say no."
Wayne Krause, legal director for the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project, decried the proposal.
"The idea of criminalizing people giving is both unkind and legally unsound," he said. "The First Amendment protects the right to ask for help. It certainly protects the right to choose to whom we give assistance."
A draft of the ordinance is scheduled for committee review next month.