Coventry rep proposes ban on standing in medians

Panhandler sign

COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — Drivers see plenty of them in the Providence metro area by the side of the road: panhandlers, holding hand-lettered cardboard signs, asking for spare change and other help. But safety is at risk, says Republican state Rep. Robert A. Nardolillo III of Coventry.

The representative plans to propose new legislation in the 2017 House session to outlaw standing in medians along state roadways where sidewalks are provided, he said in a statement Tuesday. Violators would face a civil fine after their first warning and a criminal misdemeanor on the third offense.

“When someone is standing in a median, on a major state roadway, they are distracting traffic and creating a safety hazard for motor vehicles as well as pedestrians in crosswalks,” said Rep. Nardolillo.  “If you are crossing a roadway, that’s one thing. Anything other than that should be considered a crime — because it is a serious safety issue.”

The idea comes in the wake of an incident Rep. Nardolillo said happened to him last week, when the car in front of him slammed on the brakes to hand something to someone standing in a median. Nardolillo said he nearly rear-ended the vehicle.

Last month, Cranston’s city council considered a similar municipal measure proposed by Mayor Allan Fung, but decided to hold it for study. Earlier in the year, the city abandoned a different proposal; both that and the new proposal are meeting opposition by the Rhode Island ACLU, which says it’s unconstitutional.

Newport city councilman John Florez also proposed a similar city ordinance in October, but said he doesn’t want to outright ban panhandling — courts have struck such bans down as a violation of free speech rights.

Rep. Nardolillo’s office noted a law outlawing standing in medians was passed in Phoenix, Arizona in 2014 after around 40 pedestrians were killed in one year.