Wichita Can Give Jail Time For Giving Money To Roadside Panhandlers

Wichita City Council passes new ordinance that can give jail time to both roadside panhandlers and motorists who give them money

  • The council approved the ordinance with a vote of 7-0

  • The new ordinance carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail

  • The infraction previously was punishable with a $20 fine

In an ongoing attack on the homeless in Kansas, on Tuesday the Wichita City Council announced higher fines and the possibility of jail time for giving money to roadside panhandlers.

The idea behind the new ordinance was created in an attempt to get rid of panhandlers carrying signs asking for money at freeway ramps and high-traffic intersections.

The ordinance prohibits anyone from stepping foot into a primary or congested street to receive anything from a motorist. In conjunction, drivers are no longer allowed to give anything to anyone on the road.

Before the ordinance, the infraction carried a $20 fine. Now drivers and panhandlers face a criminal misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and up to 30-days in jail. The ordinance passed the city council with a 7-0 vote.

Bryan Frye

Council member Bryan Frye claims the intent of the ordinance is to reduce car accidents caused by roadside panhandling. However, there are no statistics to back a claim that roadside panhandlers have caused a significant enough amount of accidents to require a new ordinance.

I know similar ordinances have been done in Omaha and Colorado Springs and they have been successful in reducing accidents. That’s really the intent of this.

Furthermore, it should be noted that this issue was not addressed when firefighters and other charitable organizations used roadside donations to collect money for a wide variety of causes. Charitable organizations will no longer be able to do roadside collections as well due to the new ordinance.

It should also be noted that in January the Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Shailen Bhatt blamed a significant spike in fatal accidents on an “epidemic of distracted drivers.”

We’ve kind of seen the limit of taking dangerous intersections out and putting in grade-separated crossings or adding clear zones. We can engineer the system as well as we can. But the behavioral stuff is not something that we can move the needle on drastically, except for our education programs.

Troy Livingston

Wichita Deputy Police Chief Troy Livingston said enforcement would most likely begin with educational warnings, then fines, then potential jail time for repeat offenders. Despite what Livingston believes will happen, a court will make the final decision on what punishment offenders face. Panhandlers are more likely to face enforcement than motorists.

Hopefully we see the interaction and the person who’s cited will be the person who initiated that action, so, ideally, the … pedestrian that walked out into traffic, if they initiated that, they would be cited. If the driver’s initiating that, they could potentially be cited as well.

The council also passed a companion ordinance to crack down on “aggressive” panhandling. The ordinance bans panhandlers from making physical contact, threatening, or using profane language to obtain money from citizens. The penalty for that ordinance carries up to a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.

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About Meko Haze

Meko Haze is an independent journalist by day... and an independent journalist by night.

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