“Whoever came up with this law is out of their mind,” Catholic priest Wolfgang Pucher, who is known for his work helping the poor and homeless, told the Kurier newspaper.
He said that the draft law suggests beggars are a threat to state security and will be “hunted down like terrorists” if they so much as dare "to knock on someone's door".
Graz mayor Siegfried Nagl (ÖVP) has called for a massive crackdown on begging in Styria. The draft law would require all beggars to register with the police, even if they have never broken the law. The police would also be obliged to hand over personal data such as their full name and date of birth to local councils.
Nagl said that it was important to know "who is in our city" and that the data would be used to identify beggars and offer them assistance.
However, a statement from Styria's police department said that “begging is allowed by law, and does not need authorization”. Austria's high court previously ruled that begging is permitted as long as it is not intrusive or aggressive.
The draft law also stipulates that if begging has been organized by a group of at least three people, it will be punishable with a fine of up to €10,000.
Pucher believes the draft legislation is primarily aimed at Roma people and is therefore discriminatory. “The Roma are never alone - so it's normal that you would have three members of the same family begging together. You might as well build a special prison for the Roma and lock them all up,” he said.
Green party politicians said the draft law was "unlawful and botched" and called instead for social services to be set up which could offer beggars advice and assistance and help them escape poverty.