Law would make it a crime to panhandle at bus stops, ATMs

"Aggressive Panhandler" law would make it a crime to panhandle at bus stops, ATMs

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PHOENIX (KSAZ) -

You see them all over the place: panhandlers -- asking folks for money on the sidewalks or near the off-ramps of freeways.

One Arizona lawmaker  wants to curb aggressive panhandling by restricting where they can beg for money.

Right now, it's not illegal for panhandlers to come up and ask people for money, but that could soon be changing.

Republican House member John Kavanagh wants to make it illegal for a panhandler to go up to people within 10 feet of a bus stop or 15 feet of a bank or ATM.

People asking for money at bus stops and ATMs could soon be guilty of a crime and Kavanagh wants to go after so-called "aggressive panhandlers."

"Which is defined as stepping in front of somebody, blocking their path, touching them.. continuously asking them after they say no. Or approaching them in areas where they feel vulnerable.. like next to an ATM machine," he said.

Kavanagh says the law is needed to protect people who might feel intimidated by panhandlers.  People like Dionte Travis and Stephanie Shook, who ride the bus every day.

Do they feel sometimes like they're harassing them?

"Yeah, sometimes I do, like when I'm with my kids and they keep asking me. I'm like, no I ain't got nothing right now," replied Travis.

"Aggressive. Coming at you like.. you need give it to them because they deserve it," said Shook, who adds that people waiting at bus stops are easy targets since they can't get up and leave.

"Exactly. Can't go no where you can't like walk off because then you might miss your bus. And then what? Be late to wherever you're going if you have to be there at a certain time?"

While working on this story, a panhandler approached me asking for money.  I asked him what he thought of the proposed law.

"I don't think it's good at all. Because these the reason these people are asking for money -- is because they are in [expletive] up position," he said.

He says he recently moved here from Chicago and only asks for money to get food.

"Cause I just need to eat.  That's my thing. I don't ask people for money.. I'm just hungry, you know what I mean?"

But Kavanagh says it's all about keeping people from feeling intimidated by panhandlers.

"You know these people skirt the law and they get away with it.  But they shouldn't be able to and under this bill, they won't," he said.

Kavanagh believes his bill has a good chance of becoming law.  A first violation would be a citation and repeat offenders could potentially face jail time.

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