California homeless rights bill narrowed but still opposed
04/24/2013 12:00 AM
04/24/2013 7:40 AM
Citing the need to ensure equal treatment for indigent Californians, lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a homeless rights bill that they said has been narrowed to assuage the concerns of businesses and city governments.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, framed Assembly Bill 5 as an attempt to create a statewide base line of homeless civil rights, citing a proliferation of municipal ordinances cracking down on behavior such as sleeping on the sidewalk as an example of the "criminalization of poor people."
"Today numerous laws infringe on poor peoples' ability to exist in public space, to acquire housing, employment and basic services and to equal protection under the laws," Ammiano said.
Ammiano's legislation faced a backlash from critics who said the bill would sanction behavior such as urinating in public while exposing businesses to new litigation, undercutting the will of voters who had passed local ordinances and handcuffing city-level efforts to deal with homelessness.
The California Chamber of Commerce included AB 5 on its annual list of "job killers" because it imposes "costly and unreasonable mandates on employers."
The amendments addressed those criticisms, Ammiano and supporters of the bill argued.
A widely derided provision establishing "the right to engage in life sustaining activities" including "urinating" was deleted. Another amendment jettisoned language prohibiting discrimination by business establishments.
But those changes were not enough to allay the concerns of such critics as the League of California Cities, which argued that the bill still imposes onerous new requirements.
Lobbyist Kirstin Kolpitcke pointed to a provision requiring governments to compile statistics on arrests and citations for such offenses as loitering or obstructing sidewalks.
The bill also would bar local law enforcement from applying laws governing such things as eating, sitting or panhandling in public places unless the county has satisfied a set of requirements that include a relatively low unemployment rate, a short wait for public housing and readily available public assistance.
Concerns also remain about the cost of the bill, which requires the state Department of Public Health to fund health and hygiene centers.
At the committee hearing on Tuesday, even lawmakers who voted to move the bill underscored those qualms.
"While I can certainly appreciate the goal and the aspiration, we all know we simply don't have the money to be able to provide that," Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, said of the proposed hygiene centers.
Even should that provision be stripped from the bill, it would leave the core of the legislation intact – what Jennifer Friedenbach of the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness described as "making sure homeless people have a fundamental right to rest" without facing harassment.
Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543. Follow him on Twitter @jeremybwhite.
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