It's hard to argue with a badge. Just ask the state Legislature.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee approved a bill today that would give cops and firefighters a way around local ordinances that ban sidewalk panhandling. It seems that more and more cities are clamping down on aggressive beggars. Firefighters say that threatens their "fill-the-boot" campaigns — you know, those events where firefolk stand on sidewalks and urge motorists, usually stopped at traffic lights, to stuff their professional footwear with money for charity.
(Disclosure: Legal Pad barely avoided a nasty crash a couple years ago when the car in front of her slammed on the brakes in the middle of three lanes — speed limit 40 mph, nearby traffic light green — to toss a buck in a firefighter's boot. Good heart. Bad driver.)
SB 582 says cities "shall approve" with only "reasonable conditions" sidewalk-solicitation applications from law enforcement professionals who provide proof of liability insurance.
A special privilege for firefighters? "This is going to be constitutionally challenged," said Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Claremont. Hardly, bill backers say. City leaders can allow anyone to solicit on sidewalks, if they want; they just can't say no to properly permitted law enforcement groups. And courts have generally held that a street is not a public forum, according to a bill analysis so there's no First Amendment issue. Adams pointed out that streets are often used for parades espousing all sorts of causes and views, but the bill passed easily despite his opposition.
It's hard for lawmakers to say no to law enforcement, especially when they're championing a group that raises millions of dollars for charity. Did we mention that the California Professional Firefighters gave more than $1.4 million to candidates, parties, campaigns and other political causes last year?
— Cheryl Miller