Arizona Pan-handling ban deemed unconstitutional - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Arizona Pan-handling ban deemed unconstitutional

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A man sitting on the side of the street asking for money A man sitting on the side of the street asking for money
Nathan Davis, City Attorney Nathan Davis, City Attorney
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ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

Is it your constitutional right to ask people for money?  One federal judge says it is, and he overturned an Arizona law that outlawed pan-handling.

The case came up after a 77 year-old Flagstaff woman was arrested after asking an undercover police officer for bus fare.  But could it bring about changes to Albany?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona filed the suit on the grounds that the law violated the woman's free speech.  Albany has taken steps to minimize pan-handling, but the city attorney says it's all within the bounds of the law. 

Many cities across the nation have adopted anti-begging ordinances in an effort to fight underlying problems.

"Maybe something attached to that...some sort of aggressive behavior, or they...you know...the bedrock for most government ordinances like that would be public health safety and welfare," said Nathan Davis, City Attorney. 

But a recent case won by the ACLU says individuals peaceably asking for food or money are expressing their right to free speech.  In Albany, standing on the street corner for change really only becomes illegal once individuals approach vehicles, or step into the road.

"That one is obviously based on public health, safety and welfare, since you can't go out in the street to hand something to somebody, whether it be a solicitation, or trying to sell them widgets or something like that.  I mean, that one looks pretty solid," Davis said.

But those in need can ask for money under constitutional protection as long as they're not aggressive.

"The key to it is peaceable.  Unless there's some factual objective evidence of aggression or harm or something.  They key to it is peaceable, like you say," said Davis.

Davis said the argument that asking for money is a form of free expression isn't that unusual. 

"No, no.  That's not far fetched to me," he said.  "I'll tell you what is far-fetched to me is that dancing nude in a bar is protected by the First Amendment.  I mean…that's expression.  There's leading Supreme Court discussion on that." 

Another ordinance prohibits solicitors from approaching private property or after regular hours, but Davis says that law doesn't violate any constitutional rights. 

We spoke with the municipal court, the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office, The Albany Police Department and the Dougherty County Police Department to see if the city has a pan-handling problem.  None of the departments cited specific problem areas in the city.

The city attorney said a city could still pass an ordinance outlawing pan-handling if there is strong factual basis a law is needed, but he doesn't foresee a new law here.

 

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