The Utah State House has voted to reduce where panhandling is allowed. In a vote of 67-0, the House approved HB145. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the bill is officially known as a “pedestrian safety bill.” As of February 6, 2018, the bill will go to the Senate for approval before it is put into law. Representative Steve Eliason of Sandy, one of the bill’s sponsors, said, “We don’t want individuals soliciting funds or interacting with a driver for safety reasons.” The bill would place restrictions on panhandling on roads with a median. This limitation includes both flat or raised medians (including those with grass). It will also ban panhandlers on streets with rail tracks.
The stated justification for the new bill is that many of these areas are just too dangerous for pedestrians. Last year, the Legislature restricted panhandling along freeway exits and high-speed highways because of the dangers associated with them. Representative Eliason shared with the Salt Lake Tribune that he thought of the idea when he stopped next to a median where someone who was panhandling was passed out.
Here at The Advocates, we understand how dangerous specific areas can be for pedestrian accidents. Many intersections throughout the state are repeat offenders as the site for serious pedestrian accidents. Every appropriate measure should be taken to help protect people on the streets. The issues raised in this bill are a challenge for everyone involved. Obviously, people need to be protected; they need to feel safe. However, this bill also raises the issue of whether a safety law should encroach on someone’s rights. Panhandling is a person’s right. Previous legislation for pedestrians has been struck down by judges because they inhibited the person’s First Amendment Rights. The right to panhandle in specific locations is considered a right to free speech. As a firm, we will not take a formal stance on this issue. We support free speech, as well as appropriate safety measures for pedestrians. This interplay between the two laws demonstrates how laws can sometimes intersect between safety and rights.
Analysis of laws like this one can formulate questions like what is the proper boundary between security and civil liberties. In recent years, there have been a string of cases that have demonstrated the edges of rights and safety. For example, in 2016, after the devastating shooting in San Bernardino, a Federal Court ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock the cell phone of the terrorist and his wife. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO was averse to such actions because it concerns the privacy of all Americans.
In the San Bernardino case, Cook was concerned that such an act would create a problematic precedent wherein the FBI could feasibly hack the phones of other people, thereby, violating their rights. In the same vein, the FBI argued access to the phones would aid in the safety of everyone. The possible information that could be gained from the phone could help gain insight into the attack and perhaps help protect victims in the future. This intersection of law differs slightly from the pedestrian bill mentioned above in terms of rights protected and the threat of danger; however, it demonstrates a similar line and the challenge for legislators and judges to adequately protect both rights and the safety of individuals.
Again, our firm is not taking a formal position on this matter, but we do think that it raises some interesting questions. As always, if you have any questions about a pedestrian accident or need to find a pedestrian lawyer, contact The Advocates.
What do you think about the Legislature’s Bill? Do you think there is an appropriate line between legal rights and other people’s safety? Should safety precautions override people’s rights? In what instances? Comment on any of the platforms below to let us know what you think!