MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — Monongalia County Commissioners approved the “Ordinance Regulating Pedestrian and Vehicle Safety” Wednesday morning, but many are concerned that it unfairly targets homeless people.
The bill specifically prohibits people from standing in highway medians and keeps drivers from interacting with pedestrians in roadways. The bill has been a long time coming for the commission and underwent several revisions and amendments, including changing the name from the “Panhandling Ordinance” to focus it more on the safety aspects of people being in the road.
The ordinance passed unanimously with three votes in favor and none in opposition.
During the meeting, commissioners received 11 emails from members of the public who opposed it. Wednesday afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU of WV) and Mountain State Justice (MSJ) released a joint statement calling the ordinance “an infringement upon free speech dressed up in language meant to obscure the Commission’s intent.”
The statement said that the ordinance is “both a cruel attempt to punish those experiencing poverty and a controversial enactment of a law that clearly runs afoul of the First Amendment.”
During the meeting, Commissioner Sean Sikora defended the bill, saying, “It’s not an attack on homelessness. It’s an ordinance to promote safety in those areas and the issues caused by those people in the median and people stopping to interact with people in the median.”
The Vehicle-Pedestrian Safety Ordinance goes into effect immediately in Monongalia County, but the ACLU-WV and MSJ said that they do intend to challenge the ordinance.
“You can slap a horn on a pony and call it a unicorn, but a unicorn this does not make,” said the ACLU and MSJ release. It concluded, “We tried to tell them; now we’ll see them in court.”