ACLU of Vermont asks towns to repeal anti-panhandling laws
Aug. 29, 2018
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont is urging several communities across the state to repeal anti-panhandling ordinances.
The Vermont ACLU sent a letter this week asking Rutland Town, Barre City, Montpelier, Bennington, Brattleboro and Winooski to repeal their ordinances. The Times Argus reports the letter is in conjunction with a larger campaign with the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
ACLU staff attorney Jay Diaz said several Vermont anti-panhandling ordinances have wording similar to other ordinances from across the country that have been overturned since a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision limited the ability of municipalities to restrict speech.
"The goal and purpose of the letter is to try to prevent that," Diaz said. "We certainly will look for impacted individuals to bring action. . We've had complaints over the last few years."
A 2012 ordinance in the town of Rutland was passed largely in response to complaints about panhandlers at the entrance to the Green Mountain Shopping Plaza. The Rutland ordinance was modeled after an ordinance Burlington has since repealed, Diaz said. The ordinance prohibits "aggressive" panhandling, solicitation within 15 feet (about 5 meters) of building entrances, ATMs, bus stops or parking spaces for people with disabilities. Fines range from $50 to $500.
Rutland Town Police Chief Ed Dumas said he didn't recall the ordinance being enforced much.
"I think we gave a few warnings," Dumas said.
Officials in both Montpelier and Barre said they didn't believe similar pan-handling ordinances in their communities were enforced much either.
Even if the ordinances aren't routinely enforced, the issue keeps coming up.
"Every so often, in one town, enforcement is stepped up. . If we leave these on the books and people don't understand it's unconstitutional to punish people based on speech or challenge speech in a public place — it's unacceptable," Diaz said.