ALABAMA (WHNT) — A bill aimed at making it easier to arrest anyone without a place to call home is one step closer to becoming a reality.
HB24, sponsored by Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Montgomery, would make two or more arrests for loitering a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by spending up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.
Law enforcement would still be required to offer a ride to the person or ask them to peacefully leave the premises before arresting anyone, according to the bill.
On Tuesday, May 16, the Alabama Senate approved the legislation unanimously in a 33-0 vote.
Those opposing the bill said it targets vulnerable groups, with AL.com citing Lily Milwit, an attorney with the National Homelessness Law Center.
“We can’t, as a society, in the way that we make policy, pit the public safety of some people against the public safety of other people,” Milwit said.
Some local groups also say this move may hurt North Alabama locals who are struggling.
Hands Across Decatur says 17 to 19 percent of people in Decatur live below the poverty level. The group said it may affect not just people struggling with homelessness but also people in Decatur who don’t have cars and can’t get a decent job. The group said anyone could be mistaken for homeless if they’re walking and suddenly stop for a rest.
Advocates are worried this could become a huge issue, as previously reported by News 19, Decatur city leaders have previously denied funding to homeless advocates denying services to keep the places that will help keep people off the streets going. Sue Terell with Hands Across Decatur says this is not the first time unhoused people have been targeted with criminal threats.
“It used to be panhandling and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that’s a violation of the First Amendment they cannot do that it’s free speech,” Terrell said. “So Representative Ingram reintroduced a bill that scratched that part and instead now it will intel for loitering so now they cant loitering so now they can’t loiter anywhere.”
She said she believes if the bill is passed it will create a vicious cycle.
“How do you get a job with a class C misdemeanor on your record now?” Terrell said. “How do you get an apartment?
Still, Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, maintained it was a “public safety” bill.
“This bill addresses or attempts to address things from a public safety issue,” said Barfoot. “It’s an attempt to make sure that we have law enforcement that can, instead of an arrest to begin with, that all law enforcement, if they see someone who is on state roads and right-aways can engage that individual.”
You can read the entirety of HB24 here.
The bill now heads to Gov. Kay Ivey’s office.