The Daily Advocate reported that a new bill is being proposed that is aimed at making panhandling on any public street a crime in the state of Louisiana with a fine up to $200.

The bill successfully cleared a House panel on Tuesday according to Rep. Dixon McMakin House Bill 97's primary objective is to "enhance pedestrian and motorist safety" across Louisiana.

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He emphasized the urgency of addressing pedestrian safety concerns in Louisiana, and shared the state's alarming statistics, which highlight it as one of the most dangerous for pedestrians. He argued that highways and public roads are primarily designed for vehicles and not for individuals engaging in activities like panhandling.

Currently Louisiana has an existing state law that prohibits panhandling and solicitation on interstate highways including the entry ramp area where panhandlers are commonly seen.  Under the proposed legislation, individuals found panhandling, soliciting, or engaging in similar activities could face penalties of up to six months in prison along with a $200 fine.

Is this bill infringing on the 1st Amendment?

While McMakin stressed the importance of focusing on road safety others have voiced their concerns with the bill during the committee hearing.

Sarah Whittington, the advocacy director of the Justice & Accountability Center of Louisiana, raised concerns about "potential state overreach and its implications for freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment."

She argued that such issues are typically handled at the local level through municipal ordinances and cautioned against the bill's unintended consequences, particularly for individuals in need of support services.

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