WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (WTNH) — Wethersfield may soon adopt a law to stop panhandlers from interfering with traffic.
Panhandling is being viewed by some as a public safety concern in the town.
“We are trying to come up with a solution that is respectful for everyone involved,” said Wethersfield Town Council member Mary Pelletier.
Pelletier supports the proposed ordinance, titled “Pedestrians Interfering with the Flow of Traffic.” It would make it “unlawful for a pedestrian to cause the slowing or stopping of vehicles on a highway.”
It was proposed after a number of incidents caused by panhandlers on Silas Deane Highway.
“That’s how it came to our attention, was from residents and drivers who are upset because they’ve almost got into a car accident. We have got a lot of complaints,” Pelletier said.
Anyone who violates the ordinance would be subject to a $50 fine.
Opponents argue that ordinances targeting panhandlers violate the First Amendment and that is not all.
“The first is that the ordinance itself is likely unconstitutional and the second is, who is it being enforced against? For example, is it only being enforced in certain neighborhoods, at certain intersections. It raises a host of problems,” said Dan Barrett, legal director of ACLU of Connecticut.
The town council claims prohibiting panhandling is not their intention.
“We are trying not to focus on the panhandling itself but on the public safety issues that arise from the people in the median,” Pelletier said.
One panhandler off-camera said they are not causing problems on Silas Deane Highway and he would never try to disrupt traffic.
Several Connecticut communities have passed laws to restrict aggressive panhandling including Hartford and Manchester.
The Wethersfield Town Council will vote next Monday on the ordinance that needs five votes to pass. If it does pass, Wethersfield police said they will enforce it if it means keeping the roadways safe.