The Lafayette City and Parish Councils are moving forward with an introductory ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor to sit or stand in or on certain public areas.
The introductory ordinance calls that the city-parish's code of ordinances be amended to add a section that would make it unlawful for any person to sit or stand for any period of time a) in or within 36 inches of any roadway; b) in or on any unpaved median; or c) in or on any median of less than 36 inches, except in areas that are designated bus stops.
Tuesday during the special joint meeting of the Lafayette City and Parish Councils, Lafayette City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan said, "This ordinance is based on an ordinance that has been deemed constitutional by the 10th circuit and deals with people congregating right up against the street."
Some council members questioned why this ordinance is needed.
Logan said, "Drive around town as the Mayor-President has said. It's a safety issue. The light turns green and traffic moves on. There might be one car stopped while the person in the car is digging for change and a person comes from behind, they see a green light. They may not realize that car is sitting dead stop. We need to get the pedestrians away...it's causing a safety issue."
City Councilwoman Nanette Cook said, "I might not drive around enough. I'm not noticing what the issues are." Cook asked Logan, "Are you saying there's a lot of people just hanging out on the sidewalks?"
Logan replied, "Holding signs for stores closing, panhandling and begging. I don't know what else you'd call it. They'll park their car and then go panhandle."
Interim Lafayette Police Chief Scott Morgan said, "It's not to keep them from doing any of these things. We just don't want them so close to traffic where it imposes on traffic or the driver. The motorist may or may not see them. It creates a safety issue for both."
If the ordinance is passed, violators would be issued a misdemeanor summons.
City Councilwoman Liz Hebert said, "Homelessness is becoming an issue. We need to address it before we become a big city where we have tent cities and things like that. Could this be massaged? Absolutely."
Hebert hopes the city and parish will partner with organizations to help solve this issue.
"The Mayor said he has $400,000. We have to put our money where our mouth is," Hebert said. "We have to work with proven agencies who will do the right things and give the money to people who need it in our community. I know we can be united in this and help before our city has a major homeless issue."
City Councilman Glenn Lazard said, "My original intentions were to defer this item, but I've decided to let it proceed through introduction so we can start the conversation. It's time we've had this conversation. I'm not comfortable with this ordinance with the way it's written. I think it's a false assumption to assume homeless people don't panhandle or that no panhandlers are homeless. We know that for the most part that this will have a disproportionate impact on a certain class of people."
Logan believes this ordinance does not target the homeless.
"In my experience observing them, they do not sleep against the road," Logan said. "They sleep away from the road and there are over 2200 acres. Most right-of-ways are wide. I don't think this is targeting homeless people at all."
The ordinance will be considered for Final Adoption on September 1st.
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