ACLU calls proposed ban on panhandling in Bossier City unconstitutional

Updated: Mar. 6, 2017 at 6:29 PM CST
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BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - The American Civil Liberties Union will be watching closely Tuesday when the Bossier City Council votes on two proposed ordinances aimed at limiting panhandling in the city.

One of the two ordinances proposed by Bossier City councilman Thomas Harvey would make it illegal for panhandlers to be aggressive when soliciting in public places. The other would make it illegal for panhandlers to interrupt the flow of traffic on or near a roadway.

ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman says the latter would violate panhandlers' First Amendment rights.

"It's legal to have a restriction against aggressive panhandling which is if you follow me and I ask you to stop," Esman said. "Those restrictions are perfectly legal, but it's not legal to have a law that says that you're not allowed to stand by the side of the road with a sign that says I am hungry, please help me."

Harvey says it was a personal experience, as well as resident complaints, that caused him to take action.

"There was one incidence where I ended up sitting through two lights because of the person in front of me. I was turning left onto Airline Drive and we both could have made it had this person not stopped, but they stopped."

Harvey says moments like those cause congestion and keep traffic from flowing smoothly, especially near the new Kroger Marketplace.

The ordinances carry a maximum fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

"It's geared to protect individuals," Harvey says. "It's geared to protect those individuals that are soliciting donations as well as the individuals that are in vehicles."

Cities across the country have implemented similar ordinances.

On Dec. 19, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Slidell, claiming their new law requiring panhandlers to obtain a municipal permit is unconstitutional.

Esman says laws such as these do nothing to solve the underlying problem, which is poverty.

"I am hoping that this hasn't passed in Bossier yet. That they won't. That they would recognize that what they're trying to do is simply not constitutional and permissible and that they'll figure out another way to help people in their community who are hungry and need help."

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