The Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County Commissioners’ Court will soon consider a ban on panhandling in the middle of streets and intersections. Specifically, the proposed regulations would prohibit all “solicitation activities” from the middle of roads (including esplanades and medians), as well as impose a blanket prohibition on children panhandling.
These regulations would only apply to unincorporated areas of Harris County. The City of Houston already has a ban on such panhandling activities, though it is arguably more strict. Whereas Houston requiring all “fundraising groups” to obtain permits from the City, the draft County rules do not. Houston also maintains a broad exception for firefighters who seek to raise money for their charity Christmas fund.
The particular issue of the firefighters has complicated the regulations immensely. The “Fill the Boot” fundraisers are a major source of revenue, and typically make large sums of money by standing around streetcorners. Thus, Houston exempted the firefighters from their ordinance. Without such an exemption, some have already been taken aback by the proposal. Jack Morman, the Precinct 2 Commissioner, lamented the proposal by saying “This could really affect…firefighers.”
Similarly, Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee was uneasy about the regulations, though not necessarily because of the firefighters. The lone Democrat on the Commissioner’s Court expressed concern about how this would affect the homeless population. Only Jack Cage, the Precinct 4 Commissioner, seemed ready to move forward without a large blanket exemption for the firefighters.
The problem with such a distinction, as the Chronicle notes, is that it creates rules that apply to only one group of people, which is clear and simple discrimination. Astute readers oft this blog will know that I am hard-pressed to find many regulations against the homeless population, but I believe that this is otherwise reasonable. The City of Houston has already had these regulations in place for years without much issue. Again, these regulations do not prohibit panhandling, they simply strive to make it safer for all involved.