Counties enact anti-panhandling ordinances
It’s a common scene across the country — panhandlers approaching passersby or people in cars stopped at intersections to ask for money. Some county governments, concerned about public safety and the effect on businesses, are experimenting with new ordinances to curb aggressive panhandling, according to the National Association of Counties (NACo).
The regulations, such as limiting panhandlers to certain times and locations, must be crafted carefully. Panhandling is protected as free speech, and regulations that totally prohibit panhandling have been struck down in court.
In Johnston County, N.C., officials approved an ordinance with specific restrictions on panhandling, including banning it within 100 feet of a bank or cash machine, or 20 feet of any open business. Panhandlers are prohibited from touching someone or blocking their path, and no one can make false claims, such as being a veteran or working for a charitable group. Also, no panhandling is allowed between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. In Johnston County and neighboring Wake County, panhandlers must obtain a free permit from the sheriff’s office.
In Clark County and Las Vegas, some panhandlers were using animals to curry sympathy, raising concerns from residents and tourists about the animals’ welfare in the hot Nevada sun. In March, county commissioners will consider a new ordinance by Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani that allows animals on the sidewalk only from 5 a.m. to noon. “That way the animals are out of the heat when it gets really intense,” Giunchigliani told NACo.
Other counties approving recent ordinances to restrict panhandling include Pasco and Hillsborough counties near Tampa, Fla. But county officials must tread carefully, both to protect free speech and to avoid appearing callous. The American Civil Liberties Union says anti-panhandling rules “silence the poor.” To be effective, county governments must craft ordinances that allow panhandling but also protect legitimate government interests, according to NACo.