Sen. John Kavanagh wants to crack down on panhandlers stopping traffic to solicit handouts

PHOENIX — State Sen. John Kavanagh wants to jail people who slow his, and his fellow commuters, nightly trips home.

The Republican lawmaker from Fountain Hills on Wednesday pushed a measure through a legislative committee to make it a misdemeanor to push a crosswalk signal if the only purpose is to stop traffic to beg from motorists. SB 1063 now needs approval of the full Senate.

Kavanagh said this is more than an academic problem. He said it happened to him when he was driving home from the Capitol.

“There’s a lot of traffic because it’s rush hour. But more than usual,” he said, because was someone was soliciting money from stopped cars.

“The minute the light would turn green, he’d hit the crosswalk button, not to cross the crosswalk but to cause the light to cycle faster so he could solicit more people, thus slowing everybody down without good cause,” he said.

Kavanagh said the only way to deal with the problem is to make such an action a crime, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“This is a real quick fix that takes a minute to write the bill,” he said, and not much time to debate or approve it. “But it’s one of those little murderers that drive people crazy and make people upset that government can’t control bad behavior.”

Kavanagh said it doesn’t have to end up in an arrest.

“If a police officer sees an individual doing this, he can perhaps give him a warning,” the senator said. “But if not, give him a ticket, because nobody should be allowed, for their own personal benefit, to obstruct traffic and delay traffic for that purpose,” Kavanagh continued.

He said the practice slows down hundreds of people “trying to get home after a hard day’s work.”

“Here’s someone who’s not working, who’s bumming money, and he’s going to slow you down so he can bum off more people?” he said. “That’s wrong.”

This isn’t Kavanagh’s only effort to limit panhandling.

Last year he pushed through a revision of a law a federal court had declared overly broad and an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights. That fix was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, who questioned the need for a new statewide law, saying localities remain free to adopt their own ordinances.

He has brought back a new version this session.

SB 1094 would make it a state crime to beg within 15 feet of a bank entrance or automated teller, on a public bus or near a bus stop.

People also could be arrested — and sent to jail for six months if convicted — for continuing to beg after being told to stop, recklessly making physical contact or approaching a person in an intimidating way.

That measure has not yet been set for a hearing.

Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia