Alabama passed a law that makes it illegal to panhandle or loiter on state highways and roadways.
Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill into law that makes panhandling and loitering on state roads a class C misdemeanor, with advocates arguing the bill will benefit public safety, according to a report from WSFA.
The bill was signed over the objections of advocates for the state’s homeless population, who worry the law will criminalize homelessness. However, supporters pointed out that police officers will have discretion on whether to arrest an offender.
“The police can ask them to leave and if they don’t leave, it’s a law just like your seatbelt law now,” said state Rep. Reed Ingram, a Republican representing the Montgomery area, said of the law, according to WSFA.
First-time offenders can be found guilty of the misdemeanor, while subsequent offenses could lead to fines or months behind bars.
But Ingram argued the legislation isn’t aimed at punishing the homeless population, saying that it will increase the safety of both drivers and pedestrians.
“It’s about saving the people that are on the side of the road and saving people from having to go to prison if they hit one,” Ingram said. “We’ve had over 800 get killed in 2021 and so this is very important.”
Montgomery County Commissioner Ronda Walker also supported the new law, pointing to provisions that allow law enforcement to transport offenders to crisis centers where they can get help.
“This gives law enforcement the opportunity to be more aggressive about helping these people and protecting our citizens at the same time,” Walker said, according to WSFA.
But Donna Leslie, executive director of the new Carastar Health Crisis Center in Montgomery, noted that their center is not a homeless shelter.
“We’re not a shelter,” Leslie told WSFA. “So they’re not gonna stay just because they’re homeless. We’ll admit them if their crisis situation needs further treatment.”
Montgomery, the state’s capital and second-largest city, only has one overnight homeless shelter, according to the report. That shelter’s executive director, Tara Davis, warned they are already at maximum capacity and in desperate need of funding.
The law is set to go into effect on Aug. 1.
Ivey’s office did not immediately respond to a Fox News request for comment.