After nearly two years of I-Team reports on women begging with babies on the streets of New York City, the state Senate has voted to make it a crime to do so.
Under the bill, anyone caught using babies and toddlers to peddle for cash would be charged with misdemeanor child endangerment, a crime punishable by jail.
Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who sponsored the bill, credited the I-Team for "uncovering a very dangerous situation."
The I-Team has watched for almost two years as women worked the streets and subways across the city, begging with babies and toddlers like it was a full-time job.
Women were observed commuting together, splitting up to work panhandling shifts on different corners with different babies as big-hearted New Yorkers opened their wallets at the very thought of a child in need. Some responded with disgust, pointing out there were "plenty of government services they could get."
But the I-Team found the women refused government services and chose to sit on the street instead, day after day, in the cold and in the heat -- even though they were not homeless.
"No woman with a child who is destitute should be sitting on the street begging for money," said Sen. Diane Savino. "They can walk into any public assistance office in the state and apply for welfare."
The I-Team has repeatedly tried to ask the women why the beg on the street with young children, but they have lashed out violently in response.
There is already section of New York law that states it is a misdemeanor to "employ, use of exhibit any child under 16 in begging or soliciting alms." But the section is not enforced by the NYPD.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has said "it might be a matter of seeking new laws."
The few senators who voted no on the bill argued that it makes it a crime to be poor, and that it's too broad and could have unintended consequences.
"He could be including Girl Scout cookies, he could be including 'trick-or-treat.' All these are forms of peddling," said Sen. Ruth Hassell Thompson.
Klein told the I-Team in response, "Unfortunately, some of my colleagues just don't want to criminalize anything, even behavior that winds up hurting our kids."
A companion billl in the state Assembly has not yet made it to the floor.
Recently, the panhandling women have kept a low profile after one was arrested by an MTA officer and failed to show up in court. But some fear they'll reappear now that the warmer weather is here.
Mayor de Blasio said in a statement in response to the state Senate bill passage: "Panhandling with infants and young children places them in potential danger, and it is deeply unfair to children to be used as pawns for money. We are taking a close look at the legislation."
Gov. Cuomo has also promised to review the bill.