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Council toughens restrictions on panhandling

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

The Federal Way City Council passed proposed amendments to its aggressive begging ordinance Feb. 19.

On Feb. 5, the city council as a whole first discussed the amendments. Several council members appeared torn in deciding how to help those in need but also keep the public safe.

They requested city staff to review the proposed amendment that would make panhandling from the street corner to a driver in traffic a misdemeanor offense. Council member Jim Ferrell asked deputy city attorney Aaron Walls to report on how issuing an infraction, rather than charging the panhandler with a misdemeanor, would affect the current aggressive begging ordinance.

Walls told the council Tuesday that issuing an infraction would not allow police to adequately enforce the law. Ferrell then asked Walls how many traffic accidents in Federal Way had been caused by panhandling; Walls said none.

Ferrell suspects the aggressive begging amendment aimed at restricting panhandling on Federal Way streets is instead an excuse to force panhandlers away from areas where they are visible to the public.

“It seems like it’s being used as a specious reason,” Ferrell said.

The cities of Tacoma, Des Moines, Auburn and Kent all have similar panhandling ordinances, which treat panhandling as a misdemeanor and serve to discourage begging, council member Linda Kochmar said. If the city does not pass the amendments to the ordinance, people from neighboring cities will travel to Federal Way to panhandle, she said.

Council member Dini Duclos, who is also CEO of the Multi-Service Center, said she has assisted the homeless in Federal Way for many years. Those who need help will seek it out at human services venues, rather than beg from the streets, she said.

“As someone who has worked in this field for a long time, I support this ordinance,” Duclos said.

Ferrell’s arguments did not convince the rest of the council members to change their stance on the amendments restricting panhandling on the streets. The amendments originally presented Feb. 5 passed the city council with a 5-to-1 vote.

The amendments focus on definitions of aggressive begging and providing false information. They also restrict panhandling in areas such as within 15 feet of an automated teller machine and from street corners to people in traffic.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com

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