A bill limiting local governments’ authority to enforce camping bans died on a 3-8 vote last Thursday in the House’s Transportation and Local Government Committee.
It intended to codify two court decisions tying the criminalization of homelessness to the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. But opponents — even those who said they understand the need for solutions homelessness and the lack of affordable housing — felt the bill went too far beyond that goal and would have limited local governments’ ability to regulate public health and safety through camping bans.
“I wish I knew,” said House Bill 1233 sponsor Rep. Jovan Melton when asked after the hearing what he thought went wrong that ended up killing the bill. He said he thought it had momentum and that amendments made addressed dissent. “I think policy lost to politics.”
He addressed dissent that said the bill offered a bandage for the state’s homelessness problem instead of getting to the heart of it by saying he’s limited by the single-subject requirement for bills.
“I still feel like we’re helping in that we’re not causing more harm,” Melton said. He explained he believes criminalizing homelessness only makes it harder for people to get into housing because public housing authorities may restrict access for people with criminal records.
This session is Melton’s last in the state House, which he said makes the bill’s demise especially heartbreaking for him. Democratic Reps. Matt Gray, Meg Froelich and Donald Valdez joined the committee’s Republican members in voting down the measure.
The bill’s wording would have prohibited local governments from banning “basic life functions” in public places unless there is adequate shelter available and a person refuses it. It also would have prohibited bans on staying in vehicles that are legally parked.