A representative of the Montgomery County Career Firefighters Association testified Tuesday against a county bill to prohibit panhandling in roadways because it could impact firefighters’ efforts to raise money for muscular dystrophy research.
Association President Jeff Buddle told the County Council during a public hearing that the bill would impact the firefighter union’s “Fill the Boot Campaign.” During the campaign, firefighters solicit money from motorists stopped at traffic lights in the county and then donate the proceeds to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Council member Craig Rice sponsored the bill and introduced it in December. The bill prohibits individuals from standing in the roadway to “solicit, sell or distribute any material” to drivers, but allows people to perform those activities as long as they’re standing on a sidewalk or an unpaved road shoulder.
Rice said Tuesday he introduced the bill after 64-year-old Richard Lee Cooper was struck and killed by a vehicle while panhandling on Middlebrook Road in Germantown in June.
He said Cooper was a homeless man who was well known in the area.
“I can’t just sit here and let another homeless person get hit and die,” Rice said.
Buddle said local firefighters have raised about $2 million to fight muscular dystrophy during the approximately 30 years they have been collecting donations on county roads.
He noted firefighters wear safety vests and do not operate in roadways where they could cause traffic backups while fundraising. Firefighters typically fundraise for about three days before Labor Day weekend, according to the union’s website.
Tiffany Tillotson, executive director of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Greater D.C., also testified against the bill Tuesday. She said money collected by the firefighters helps fund research that can result in the development of drugs and treatments for the group of diseases that cause muscles to weaken over time.
Clay Teunis, public safety chair of the Hillandale Citizens Association, testified in favor of the bill Tuesday.
“Panhandling is getting out of hand in Hillandale,” said Teunis of the Silver Spring neighborhood. He referred to panhandlers as “cross street cowboys” and expressed concern that tempers “could flare up” between them and drivers, which could result in someone getting hurt.
Jade Verity, a resident who testified against the bill, said she doubted whether the proposed law, if passed, would be constitutional. She described panhandling as “one citizen asking another citizen for help.”
“The notion that government has the right to limit one citizen asking another for help is unsettling,” Verity said.
The council has not scheduled a committee meeting or future action on the bill. The bill would likely need authorizing legislation approved by the General Assembly to move forward because it would impact state roadways, according to council staff.