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homeless.JPGAn amended version of a bill that would extend new protections to California's homeless population cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, framed Assembly Bill 5 as an attempt to create a statewide baseline of homeless civil rights, citing a proliferation of municipal ordinances cracking down on behavior like lying or sleeping on the sidewalk as examples of the "criminalization of poor people."

"Today numerous laws infringe on poor peoples' ability to exist in public space, to acquire housing, employment and basic services and to equal protection under the laws," Ammiano said at a Tuesday morning hearing.

Ammiano's legislation faced a backlash from critics who said the bill would sanction behavior like urinating in public while exposing businesses to new litigation, undercutting the will of voters who had passed local ordinances and handcuffing city-level efforts to deal with homelessness. The California Chamber of Commerce included AB 5 on its annual list of "job killers" because it imposes "costly and unreasonable mandates on employers."

The amendments addressed those concerns, Ammiano and supporters of the bill argued. A widely derided provision establishing "the right to engage in life sustaining activities" including "urinating" was deleted. Another amendment jettisoned language prohibiting discrimination by business establishments.

But those changes were not enough to allay the concerns of critics like the League of California Cities, which argued that the bill still imposes onerous new requirements. Lobbyist Kirstin Kolpitcke pointed to a provision requiring governments to compile statistics on arrests and citations for offenses like loitering or obstructing sidewalks.

The bill would also bar local law enforcement from applying laws governing things like eating, sitting or panhandling in public places unless the county has satisfied a set of requirements that include a relatively low unemployment rate, a short wait for public housing and readily available public assistance.

"The city does not control the county's numbers or what they do or do not provide," Kolpitcke said.

Concerns also remain about the cost of the bill, which requires the State Department of Public Health to fund health and hygiene centers. At the committee hearing on Tuesday, even lawmakers who voted to move the bill underscored those qualms -- committee chair Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, predicted a "lively discussion" when the bill goes before the Appropriations Committee.

"While I can certainly appreciate the goal and the aspiration, we all know we simply don't have the money to be able to provide that," Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, said of the proposed hygiene centers.

Even should that provision be stripped from the bill, it would leave the core of the legislation intact -- what Jennifer Friedenbach of the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness described as "making sure homeless people have a fundamental right to rest" without facing harassment.

"That does not overturn local laws," Friedenbach told the Bee.

PHOTO CREDIT: Advocates for the homeless rally outside the State Capitol building on Tuesday The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White



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