MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Montgomery City Council unanimously voted down an amendment to a controversial panhandling ordinance Tuesday night.
In July, the council passed Ordinance No. 24-2019, called “An Ordinance Prohibiting Panhandling in the City of Montgomery.” Under the ordinance, a first offense would get a panhandler two days in jail unless it’s suspended by the judge. Further offenses guaranteed jail time.
Mayor Todd Strange didn’t sign the ordinance because of possible legal troubles.
The city council opted not to take up a vote on an amendment in October despite Strange saying he would sign if it included penalties for both sides.
The amendment would’ve made it illegal for a pedestrian to give or take any object from someone in a vehicle on a public roadway. It would also make it illegal for the person in the car on the roadway to give or take any object from someone on the side of a public road.
The mayor and city council said the ordinance was about public safety, but opponents said by restricting what people can freely give and receive, you’re hampering their free speech. Civil rights and homelessness advocacy organizations sent a letter to Strange and the council saying, in part, “Although the text of the Ordinance states that its purpose is to promote the City’s ‘health’ and ‘prosperity,’ the Amendment will undermine those goals by making it more difficult for people to exit homelessness."
The groups gathered outside city hall to voice their opposition ahead of the council meeting.
“These laws dehumanize, ostracize, and incarcerate people for expressing need,” said one speaker. “They pander to ignorant stereotypes about people who should instead command our respect.”
According to Michael Briddell with the city of Montgomery, the ordinance on the books currently must go to “Muni Code” to be properly included in Montgomery’s laws. The step was delayed as city council, Strange and the city attorney worked to address concerns with portions of the law. Due to the sensitivity of the ordinance and the need to address those concerns, the law has not been enforced.
Briddell said at some point in the future the council will have to either repeal the ordinance as it stands now or attempt to add another amendment to it.