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Jewish World Review July 17, 2003/ 17 Tamuz, 5763

Larry Elder

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Consumer Reports

Coming to a city near you license to panhandle? | Registration for panhandling? Cincinnati, patterning itself after a similar measure enacted in Dayton, Ohio, now requires registration for panhandling.

Since Dayton enacted the measure in December 2000, according to Alan Colmes on Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes," "only 100 people signed up." The Cincinnati measure went into effect in May 2003. Signing up, so far: 53 people, the majority of them only to protest the ordinance.

According to many studies, most of the homeless suffer from drug abuse, alcoholism or mental retardation. Some, holding up signs, "Will Work For Food," simply operate as scam artists, rejecting offers of work rather than food. A compassionate society takes care of the truly needy in assorted ways, most efficiently and humanely by non-profit organizations such as the Salvation Army.

San Francisco belatedly learned that giving panhandlers financial incentives simply increases more homelessness. At one time, San Francisco offered panhandlers certificates to use in exchange for food. Surprise, surprise ... this increased the number of panhandlers. The city now offers shelter, but no longer cash subsidies. According to K. Lloyd Billingsley, editorial director of the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, "San Francisco's policy has been to give the homeless generous cash grants of up to $395 monthly, with few questions asked. The easy cash attracted what an Australian paper, unconstrained by Bay area political correctness, called a "hobo boom" – a tide of vagrants, drunks and junkies. The lesson here is that, as the movie "Field of Dreams" put it, if you build it, they will come. But they won't clean up after themselves."

But back to Cincinnati. What, pray tell, does a panhandler who, by definition, lives on the street, put down on an application? The "City of Cincinnati Application /Temporary Registration for Solicitation" appears as follows:

Last Name_______________________________
First Name_______________ Middle_________
Address____________________ Apt. No.______
City______________ State____ Zip Code______
Race______________ Sex_____ DOB__________
Driver's License /Ohio ID__________________
Height__ Weight __ Hair Color __ Eye Color __

I attest, under penalty of law, that I have provided true and accurate information about my identity for the purposes of applying for this Registration Card.

_____________________ Date ____________
Applicant Signature

_____________________ Date ____________
Health Dept. Rep. Signature

This application shall serve as the Applicant's temporary registration and shall remain valid until applicant's eligibility has been determined, not to exceed 30 days from date of application.

Official Use Only

Date Application Sent to Police Dept. ______
Application Approved ______ Denied ______
Registration Number______________________

But the Cincinnati ordinance raises a larger question. Some call panhandling a business. And, after all, businesses require licenses to operate, so why not the "business" of panhandling? But why require businesses to obtain licenses?

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Without a license, a guy cannot go into the "business" of charging customers to transport them from A to B. George Will, in an article in the Washington Post, said, "The Institute for Justice argues that regulations that restrict entry into a field violate constitutional guarantees of liberty and equal protection of the laws when they bear no rational relationship to a legitimate government objective. In recent years the institute's litigators have opened the taxi markets of Denver, Cincinnati and Indianapolis and have emancipated the providers of jitney services in Houston, generally for the benefit of minorities and to the consternation of protected interests."

Also, one cannot cut hair, yet one can, without a license, charge to fix someone's brakes. In "Free to Choose," economist Milton Friedman says, "[An] essential part of economic freedom is freedom to use the resources we possess in accordance with our own values – freedom to enter any occupation, engage in any business enterprise, buy from and sell to anyone else, so long as we do so on a strictly voluntary basis and do not resort to force in order to coerce others.

"Today you are not free to offer your services as a lawyer, a physician, a dentist, a plumber, a barber, a mortician or engage in a host of other occupations, without first getting a permit or license from a government official. ... You are not free to set up a bank, go into the taxicab business, or the business of selling electricity or telephone service, or running a railroad, busline or airline, without first receiving permission from a government official."

Friedman also says, "If the argument is that we are too ignorant to judge good practitioners, all that is needed is to make the relevant information available. If, in full knowledge, we still want to go to someone who is not certified, that is our business."

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati panhandling application asks for: Home? Apartment number? Phone number? Driver's license? Assuming a panhandler possesses all these things, why panhandle? Oh, well, no doubt the enlightened Cincinnati government will figure it out.

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JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of, most recently, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America." (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate