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Mon Fee passes pedestrian and car security regulation

MORGANTOWN — It doesn’t outlaw panhandling, they famous.  

Or curtail speech. 

It doesn’t criminalize poverty or homelessness. 

It addresses a selected security situation — individuals loitering within the highway. 

After making these factors in activate Wednesday, members of the Monongalia County Fee voted unanimously to undertake the Ordinance Regulating Pedestrian and Automobile Security. 

As beforehand reported, the ordinance consists of quite a few prohibitions for each pedestrians inside a right-of-way and car passengers that will make it criminal activity for pedestrians to face, sit or bodily stay inside a roadway for any purpose aside from crossing the highway. It additionally makes it unlawful for each pedestrians and car passengers to work together and go or trade objects. 

The regulation replaces the county’s Ordinance Regulating Soliciting/Panhandling, which has been on the books since August 2010. That regulation made it illegal for anybody to solicit/panhandle in or alongside a roadway with out written authorization from the sheriff’s division.

The highway to Wednesday’s vote started in earnest on Might 25, when Fee President Tom Bloom convened a gathering of county and municipal officers and regulation enforcement personnel to debate the potential for a countywide regulation addressing the rising situation of people using medians to ask motorists for cash. 

By late June it was clear that with a purpose to go muster constitutionally, any ensuing regulation ought to keep away from concentrating on particular exercise or speech, and as a substitute concentrate on the place it’s being performed. 

“Whatever the notion, and even the truth of how the ordinance was born, it’s utterly morphed into one thing that doesn’t assault panhandling or outlaw panhandling,” Commissioner Jeff Arnett mentioned.  

“There’s nothing in right here that criminalizes homelessness or outlaws panhandling. It’s simply whenever you’ve received a scenario the place there’s 4 or 5 lanes of site visitors and also you’ve received a person sitting in the course of the highway, it creates a security hazard … Lots of the opposition has generalized it into one thing that it’s truly not.” 

Arnett’s feedback struck instantly at a lot of the pushback towards the regulation. Critics have mentioned no matter whether or not the regulation consists of the phrase “panhandling” it was created to criminalize that protected speech and would have the unintended penalties of punishing the poor and, probably, getting the county sued. 

The fee obtained a flurry of emails opposing the regulation beginning about half-hour previous to Wednesday’s assembly. A lot of what’s included in these messages echoes these factors. 

Lindsey Jacobs, an lawyer with Mountain State Justice, spoke concerning the proposed regulation throughout an Aug. 16 public listening to. She was amongst these to succeed in out by way of e mail. 

“First, the ban — even in its present, rebranded type, is unconstitutional and can completely draw a authorized problem. I desire my tax {dollars} be spent on initiatives that really tackle homelessness, poverty, and security – not lawsuits defending clear First Modification violations,” Jacobs wrote, later including, “… there are higher, confirmed methods to deal with the challenges of homelessness and poverty in our neighborhood.” 

Commissioner Sean Sikora addressed that time, noting the fee is an lively participant in native efforts to fight homelessness, poverty, dependancy and numerous different societal points, offering some $1.4 million yearly to a listing of social companies and nonprofits. 

“There’s a variety of discuss that’s made about homelessness and individuals who need assistance. You couldn’t reside in a extra progressive county with reference of all we do to assist those who want a hand up,” Sikora mentioned. “So, we’re attacking the issue at its root trigger. This ordinance is to deal with security.” 

The brand new regulation will solely be in impact within the county if municipalities select to take it up. In any other case, current municipal legal guidelines will stay in impact.

Penalties embrace a warning for a primary offense and a nice as much as $100 for every subsequent offense.

Requested if he was involved about potential litigation, Bloom mentioned it’s out of the fee’s palms. 

“Sadly, we may be sued for something. I consider, after receiving a number of telephone calls from some nationwide teams who after reviewing it, have been like, ‘Oh, we didn’t understand what your ordinance was truly doing,’ that they felt snug. I simply received that telephone name yesterday,” Bloom mentioned, declining to reveal what group or teams he was referring to. 

“This ordinance morphed out of what was taking place within the streets and panhandling. We realized we can not legislate panhandling, however we are able to make the streets secure for pedestrians and vehicles. That’s all this does,” he mentioned. “It’s a security situation.”