Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seattle Panhandling Ordinance: The Final Score

Seattle Panhandling Ordinance: The Final Score

Tuesday, April 12, 2010

By Timothy Harris, Executive Director, RealChangeNews.org

Next Monday, if all goes as expected, Councilmember Burgess’ dishonest panhandling ordinance will slam through the City Council on a veto-proof 8-1 vote.

The third set of Burgess amendments — offered in last week’s Public Safety committee — were quickly passed. Is the Burgess “fix” a solution to widely held public concerns? Who knows? The discussion is closed.

Two amendments from Councilmember Licata were shamefully rejected without so much as a second at the same meeting. These asked that Peter not be robbed to pay Paul for new foot patrols, and that the services needed to make the measure “non-punitive,” — street outreach, treatment, housing, and mental health resources — be found to exist before the punishment begins. No dice.

The measure, it is often said, has the support of the human services community. Then comes the list: Plymouth Housing Group, Downtown Emergency Center, Union Gospel Mission, YWCA, and the Compass Center. Each has large city contracts. Most of the ED’s are on the boards of prominent downtown business interests.

These things happen, and their support is unrepresentative of even their own base. The Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness is a more honest barometer, as is the Church Council of Greater Seattle, El Centro de la Raza, the Lutheran Public Policy Office, the Minority Executive Director’s Coalition, the ACLU of Washington, Seattle King County NAACP, the Statewide Poverty Action Network, and Real Change.

All share the concern that the Seattle Human Rights Commission, established in 1963 “to advise the City of Seattle on human rights issues and … prevent and eliminate discrimination city-wide,” voted 9-1 to reject. The SHRC report, available at their website, describes grave “due process and disparate impact” concerns, and found the data to justify the law “insufficient to support the substance of the proposed ordinance.”

The Council hasn’t blinked. The 8-1 count, apparently, is in.

An unlikely but still possible better outcome is for a flawed but improved measure to pass 9-0. For this to occur, four council-members would need to support Licata’s perfectly reasonable set of Hail Mary amendments.

Can this Council be that honest? Can Harrell? Rasmussen? O’Brien? The Sallies? On the morning of Monday the 19th, we’ll have their answer.

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