Maui Discussion

Ask the Mayor: How is the County Dealing With Aggressive Panhandling?

February 28, 2016, 3:29 PM HST
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Shopping carts used by homeless individuals in the vacant lot next to the Family Life Center in Kahului. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Shopping carts used by homeless individuals in the vacant lot next to the Family Life Center in Kahului. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Mayor Alan Arakawa answers some of the questions submitted to his office staff. Submit your own questions about County of Maui programs, services, operations or policies to Mayor Alan Arakawa via email at [email protected], call 270-7855 or send them by mail to 200 S. High St., 9th Floor, Wailuku, HI 96793. Questions submitted will be considered for inclusion in the “Ask the Mayor” column.

Aloha Mayor Arakawa,

Q: Thank you for everything you are doing—a difficult job with so many special interest groups to appease.

Many Maui residents (and visitors) have been faced with increasingly aggressive panhanders on our streets. Giving them money makes the problem worse. I’ve personally seen them get a “donation” on the corner at Walmart, and promptly go across the street to the mini-mart by Home Depot, emerging with a 40 oz. bottle of malt liquor.

Formulating an ordinance / law against “begging” is difficult. However, an ordinance against “giving” may be easier. Please consider action on this, and also the continued theft and accumulation of shopping carts. We all pay for the added cost of products that stores charge to cover the loss of expensive carts. It is theft! Why isn’t it enforced, when stealing a $10 product from a store will get you arrested?

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A: Members of our community, the Maui Police Department and I all share your frustration, which is exactly why on Nov. 24, 2015, my office introduced five bills that address certain “nuisance” issues, such as aggressive panhandling.

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Specifically, our panhandling bill adds a prohibition to make in unlawful to “solicit in an aggressive manner in public places.”

The reason this bill is important is many people have complained about being approached by panhandlers, who threaten them if they don’t receive any money. This is a real concern in certain commercial areas and people have said they just do not feel safe with this kind of activity going on.

To address this, my office drafted a bill with the help of Hawai‘i County attorneys, who had made earlier attempts to pass a panhandling bill last year. The American Civil Liberties Union initially sued Hawai‘i County over its bill, because they said it violated First Amendment rights.

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Hawai‘i County then worked with the ACLU to draft another bill that did not affect free speech, but still made aggressive begging and soliciting unlawful.

The bill we introduced is based upon their work and we checked with the ACLU independently to make sure our version met with their approval, which it did.

Many thanks to both Hawai‘i County and the ACLU for allowing us to build upon their efforts.

The other nuisance law bills we introduced include a bill that would address your concern about the taking or abandonment of shopping carts, as well as others making it unlawful to defecate or urinate in public areas, lie down on public sidewalks, or consume or possess intoxicating liquor in public areas.

These proposed bills were created because our police officers said they needed better legal tools to protect our community, and we have vetted each one through our Corporation Counsel attorneys.

So if you agree with these proposed changes and want the County Council to pass them into law, please let your respective council member know how you feel.

 

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