Starting in early December, it will be unlawful for a driver to stop for a panhandler along certain roads in Gig Harbor.
"It's a misdemeanor, so that would be up to 90 days in jail or a thousand dollar fine," said Gig Harbor Police Chief Kelly Busey. "We've had some complaints about panhandling, but that's not what drove this."
Chief Busey says traffic accidents led to this ordinance. Police data shows a high number of accidents in and around the city's eight roundabouts and at the intersection of Olympic Drive and Point Fosdick Drive.
"About one out of every three accidents occurs within the roundabouts or the intersection," said Busey.
Under the new law, drivers will be prohibited from physically interacting with pedestrians in or within 200 feet of any roundabout, within 500 feet of the intersection of Olympic Drive and Point Fosdick Drive, and within 200 feet of an overpass.
"You won't be able to cross the curb line to actually interact or physically exchange goods or money with an occupant of a vehicle," explained Busey.
Gig Harbor does have a history when it comes to panhandling. In 2012, the city adopted an anti-panhandling law. But a neighboring city with a similar law faced a legal challenge. A man named Robert Willis sued the city of Lakewood, claiming the city's anti-begging law was unconstitutional because it infringed on free speech. It led Gig Harbor to stop enforcing its anti-panhandling law, according to City Administrator Ron Williams.
On Thursday, Chief Busey reiterated that free speech rights are protected.
"Being homeless, being a panhandler is not illegal. We are aware of that. In fact our officers, when we contact a panhandler, always offer social services," said Busey.
He added that officers try to get those in need to a shelter as well as provide them with resources.
Chief Busey emphasizes that the city's new law is not about panhandling.
"This is a traffic safety ordinance," he said.
In Gig Harbor, the city says the goal of the ordinance is to get drivers to pay attention to the road. The new law goes into effect Tuesday.