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Kalispell targets motorists in new panhandling law

by Daily Inter Lake
| March 12, 2023 12:00 AM

Kalispell motorists take note. A simple offering of spare change to the needy could soon cost far more than you bargained for.

If approved by Kalispell City Council, a new ordinance would make it illegal for drivers to give money to panhandlers who are within a public roadway.

The fine? Up to $300.

This tough stance against aiding panhandlers came about earlier this month at the request of City Councilor Chad Graham, who contends that the prevalence of roadside panhandlers in the city has reached the point of becoming a safety issue.

Graham is correct in his anecdotal assessment that panhandlers have an obvious presence at some city locales: the shopping centers in North Kalispell and off the U.S. 93 Bypass, to name a few.

But just because panhandlers have been spotted at these locations, does it really mean that they or the passerby who provides them with a few bucks have become a safety concern rising to the level of a police response?

If Graham and the City Council’s objective is to get these folks moving along, it should be noted that Kalispell already has a mechanism to do just that. The city’s current ordinance bans panhandling within 20 feet of an intersection, on mass transit, at a bus stop or on private property.

It also prohibits behaviors that could be considered aggressive, such as following, blocking or harassing while soliciting donations. Violations are potentially punishable by a fine of up to $500 under city code.

Another ordinance specifically targeting motorists for simply handing out a few dollar bills is not only ridiculously excessive — it would deter from other, far more important policing efforts.

It seems as though the only practical way to enforce this new law would be to station an officer at an intersection and wait for the transaction to occur. This is how we want to allocate the city’s limited law enforcement resources with so many other challenges facing the city?

The officer would then have to pursue the offending motorist and pull over the vehicle on a presumably busy roadway. If the new law is about safety, putting Kalispell’s officers in harm’s way to issue such a frivolous citation hardly adds up.

While the City Council’s efforts to deter panhandling have merit — exactly why there’s already a law on the books addressing the issue — this proposal is plainly superfluous and packed with unintended consequences.

The City Council will discuss the ordinance at a March 13 work session. Let them know Kalispell’s police officers have far more important tasks at hand. Enforcing this law isn’t worth their time or jeopardizing their safety.

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