NEW ORLEANS — The City of Slidell will not challenge a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against a local ordinance that would have required a license to panhandle or beg for money from passersby, according to the city's attorney.
The City of Slidell will not challenge the decision, according to the city's attorney.
“The Slidell City Council met on Tuesday [July 11] in regular session and a motion was made not to oppose the ruling of the federal judge,” Lawrence Abbott, an attorney at Cotten Schmidt & Abbott and counsel for the City of Slidell, told the Louisiana Record.
Judge Lance Africk for the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Louisiana ruled in a in a 32-page opinion that that the First Amendment's right to free speech protects people who beg for money on the street.
The Slidell City Council passed a local ordinance last summer that would have required a license to panhandle after city officials reported there were 70 public complaints about nuisances caused by panhandlers. Out of that number, only 14 arrests were made. In the other 56 incidents the panhandlers could not be identified by officers.
Africk disagreed that the complaints amounted to a crime wave in Slidell.
“A mere 70 complaints since 2015... does not substantiate an epidemic of panhandling,” he said in the ruling.
Slidell's ordinance required panhandlers to acquire a free permit and wear it around their necks when asking passersby for money. The intent, city officials said, was to keep panhandlers and the public safe.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the city last year, contending that the ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution, and that begging on street corners is protected by the First Amendment. ACLU officials said the matter comes down to government banning messages it doesn’t like and punishing people for asking for help.
Africk ruled in favor of the ACLU.
“I disagreed with the finding that the ordinance was unconstitutional,” Abbott said. “It is a matter of public safety.”
Abbott said the issue is finished and will not be revisited.
“No, it won’t come back,” he said.