COLONIE — The Town Board opted for the second time to not vote on a local law that would reign in aggressive panhandling and doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to formally address the issue.
A second public hearing was held on Thursday, Aug. 27, and two people spoke against the law. The first was held two weeks prior and a handful of people spoke against while just one spoke in favor.
Town Attorney Michael Magguilli asked the board to adjourn the issue without date to give him time to work on the issue and explore other options.
“The town has received a number of responses both in favor and against the proposal. From what I can see the responses for and opposed are running about even. All of them, both for and against, are quite good,” he said. “What I would request the board is to continue the public hearing and possibly close it and then adjourn it without date to give me more time to work at this proposal and incorporate things of value we have received from the public and also look at alternate means of possibly addressing the same issue.”
The law would have made it illegal to panhandle within six feet of someone as it relates to COVID-19 social distancing protocols and made it illegal to panhandle at a number of locations throughout town including highway ramps, near banks and ATM machines and in parking lots and driveways of malls and other retail establishments.
Penalty for a first offense would carry a fine of between $25 and $250 and a second offense within a year could carry a penalty of up to 15 days in jail. In lieu of a fine the court could, with the town’s blessing, impose an alternative sentence “provided it is not an unconditional discharge.”
Barbara Rio-Glick said in addition to being inhumane, the law would end up costing the town money.
“I would imagine those who are panhandling would not be able to pay the fine so we as taxpayers would have to bear the cost of putting someone in jail. To keep one person in jail for 25 days costs approximately $2,000,” she said. “Since the panhandler will likely have to go back to panhandling after release we have done nothing but create a revolving door that continues to cost the county money.”
She added the law would likely be challenged in court and similar laws have already been ruled unconstitutional for violating guaranteed freedom of speech rights.
Magguilli reiterated Thursday the intent of the law is not to criminalize poverty or deny anyone’s freedom of speech or to ask for assistance.
“What this does is try to address the issue of unsafe and aggressive panhandling,” he said. “This was written initially in response to the legitimate concerns of a great number of citizens who contacted the town and complaining because they continued to be truly frightened by some of the aggressive acts of some of the panhandlers.”
Sonya Rio-Glick, who relied on a wheelchair for mobility at Thursday’s meeting, said she lived in three major cities — Denver, Boston and New York — and never felt threatened by panhandlers.
“As someone who does not have the ability to defend myself I have been solicited by panhandlers more times than I can recall,” she said. “And in working as an intensive case manager have been working in tandem with those who would be targeted by this and never have I feared for my personal safety and never have I been inclined to physically react to a person, never have I had to call the police on a client or a panhandler and I am safe and well to speak to you tonight.”
Supervisor Paula Mahan said any passage of the local law is going to take time and alternatives will be explored “to keep everyone safe.” Some panhandlers, particularly along Everett Road, do position themselves in precarious positions as they solicit drivers.
The public hearing was left open two weeks ago and closed on Thursday.