NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit
against a New Orleans-area mayor charging his passage of an ordinance
requiring panhandlers to have permits they wear around their necks
while soliciting is a violation of free speech rights.
According to The
Advocate, the petition, which was filed in U.S.
District Court of New Orleans in December, names Slidell Mayor Freddy
Drennan and interim Police Chief Eugene Howard as defendants, as
well as the city of Slidell.
While admitting that they routinely “walk from their areas of
residence to locations within the city limits, typically high-traffic
intersections and they solicit alms from passersby,” plaintiffs
David Knight, Daniel Snyder and Gary Blitch allege they were
admonished to get a permit or a job, and were threatened with jail
time for noncompliance.
Snyder added that his subsequent attempts to get the officer’s
involved badge numbers near Gause Boulevard on the morning of Nov. 17
were rebuffed, according to the New
Orleans Times-Picayune, with the officer involved driving away
from the scene.
ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman said such
actions are unacceptable and should not be tolerated.
“Not only is begging protected speech, Slidell’s public
streets, like all public streets, are traditional public forums in
which any content-based regulation of speech is presumptively
invalid,” she said in a statement released to The Louisiana
City officials first moved to pass the legislation in question
last July, billing it as an attempt to ensure the safety of both
panhandlers and drivers. Under the letter of the law, panhandlers
must apply for the free permit at least 48 hours before they can take
to the streets to solicit.
Going through the channels of applying for the permits allows city
officials the right and opportunity to conduct full criminal
background checks on all the applicants.
ACLU officials immediately announced their opposition to the
measure, charging it is unconstitutional, though police authorities
insist they have not yet moved to enforce the law as they await the
formal installation of the new police chief, Randy Fandal, who is on
record as planning to sit down with the city attorney and discuss the
particulars of the ordinance.
“We request that the city of Slidell immediately discontinue
enforcement of this unlawful ordinance, terminate any and all pending
prosecutions and expunge all arrests under the records of anyone
unlawfully arrested under the ordinance, and repeal this ordinance as
quickly as possible,” Esman added. “We reserve the right to take
appropriate action without further notice to the city of Slidell.”
A recent National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty analysis
finds the number of local governments cracking down on panhandling is
growing at a rapid rate, with an additional 25 percent of all cities
imposing related bans from between 2011 and 2014.
Overall, the report concluded that the number of cities with
restrictions on begging in specified public places having jumped by
at least 20 percent over that time.