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Echoes and Mirrors» Blog Archive » 2010 is starting off swimmingly

2010 is starting off swimmingly

Homeless people can’t pay fines. What to do about panhandling? San Antonio has a solution:

You see them everywhere….panhandlers…often holding crude cardboard signs, begging for cash at busy intersections. Efforts to wipe out panhandling by outlawing the practice have been ineffective, largely because panhandlers don’t have the money to pay fines, taxpayers are not excited about releasing violent criminals from overcrowded jails to make way for beggars. And several municipal laws outlawing panhandling have been thrown out by courts as an unconstitutional violation of free speech.

So, San Antonio City Councilman John Clamp has a new and intriguing idea. He tells 1200 WOAI’s Bud Little he will propose making it a crime, with stiff fines, for people to give money to beggars on the public street.

Which just seems wrong, unless the motivation behind municipal laws are to raise revenue, not to prevent crime. If the motivation is revenue, this is not just logical, it’s right. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but it doesn’t seem right to me. Politicians have pretty much set a precedent that giving money is a speech act (to protect their campaign contributions). If that is the case, this law is infringing on the freedom of speech. But from what I understand, the bums/panhandlers in SA are some of the worst in the nation (by worst, I mean most hostile) and this would seem like an effective deterrent from giving them money. On the other hand, what right does the state have to prohibit this act? Balancing justice and pragmatism is difficult.

And in Michigan, they are using municipal laws to subvert a state law regarding the legality of medical marijuana. Of course, any of these laws, ordinances and zoning issues will eventually be thrown out by some judge; it just seems childish of the anti-pot crowd. The thing about laws are that they can be passed even if they are unconstitutional – and remain in effect until somebody takes a court case up high enough with it. Sure, organizations like the ACLU (I’m a card-carrying member myself, so this is no rip on them) can try to go in and fight off every case, but that’s kind of wasteful. The teetotallers are just fighting a war of attrition now, hoping that those who put liberty above all else will just give up because it’s so difficult.

The system of checks and balances works, but not nearly quickly enough. Unconstitutional laws can sit on the books for ages just because nobody has the money or motivation to take them to the supreme court. This is wrong.

And this year, I think it will only get worse.

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