Evanston, Ill., leads the way in reasonable panhandling regulation
Well, whack my legs off and call me Shorty! The city of Grand Junction is talking about passing an anti-panhandling ordinance.
When I first heard about a movement to address the panhandling issue, I assumed it would involve building some sort of vagrant entertainment venue, since the city apparently believes that entertainment solves all problems and clearly see itself as a modern-day Ziegfield Follies. But no such nomadic hootenanny was apparently contemplated — at least not yet.
Therefore, if the City Council members are going to actually talk about passing any regulation dealing with panhandling and specifically that of the aggressive variety, more power to them.
However, they are certain to be confronted by arguments against such an idea of the same stripe I have seen when suggesting such an action.
“What about their First Amendment rights?” is the usual retort I receive from people who have absolutely no interest in defending anyone’s Second Amendment rights whatsoever. But that’s another argument. The Second Amendment is the Avis of the Constitution. It always has to try harder.
The reality is that all people do have a right to ask others, including strangers, for money.
Panhandlers sometimes engage in conduct that is not particularly different from that of politicians, who stuff our inboxes with pleas for money to help stop the other party’s horrific programs. Andrew Romanoff, perpetual candidate for one thing or another, recently had a birthday, and, according to an email, his family desperately needed my financial assistance to make him happy.
Traditionally, law enforcement utilized other types of statutes to address the problem with vagrants in search of green pastures. Laws specifically addressing vagrancy, public intoxication or loitering were used to keep some of these folks from becoming too much of a pest. The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down these types of ordinances by declaring them to be crimes of status, not activity, and as such, the justices believe they do not pass constitutional muster.
Afterward, efforts to stifle particular types of communication for money were ruled to be overly broad. Consequently, attempts to restrict the activities of disabled war veterans in search of a single gallon of gas that will get them to a vital job interview in Utah, are often struck down.
Contrary to what some would have us believe, however, there are ordinances that have proved to be successful and protective of the rights of speech and association. The city of Evanston. Ill., appears to have a successful ordinance concerning the regulation of panhandling. Whether this stems from the efforts of Illinois politicians to turn many of their citizens into panhandlers is unclear, but they do seem to be leading the charge of regulation.
What has been done is an effort to regulate specific types of activity associated with solicitation of money on the streets, conducted in a way that a reasonable person would see the solicitation as threatening or uncomfortable. Specifically targeted are: repeatedly making requests for money to a stationary person who has previously refused a request, requesting money from an individual within a certain distance of an ATM machine or blocking the path of or touching a person being solicited.
There are other components that refer to more overtly aggressive actions and attempt to define threatening speech or activities. The section that seems most broad is one that deals with activity after a request and “making any statement other than the panhandling request or acting in any other manner which, in light of the circumstances taken as a whole, i.e., darkness, would cause a reasonable person to feel harassed, intimidated, or compelled to contribute.”
This is broad but similar to part of Colorado’s general harassment statute, which includes a provision against someone who “repeatedly insults, taunts, challenges or makes communications in offensively coarse language to another in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response.” This section has stood constitutional scrutiny.
While not part of this specific ordinance, there is also the authority of a city or county to limit the ability of individuals to solicit within a certain distance of public thoroughfares or street corners in ways that would interfere with the flow of traffic, endanger a pedestrian or encourage a pedestrian to approach a motor vehicle in traffic.
These are clearly safety issues and I think within the legitimate interest of a public entity.
Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.