ACLU calls proposed panhandling permit unconstitutional
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Requiring panhandlers to get a permit to ask for money in West Virginia’s capital city would be unconstitutional, the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter says.
A proposed ordinance establishing the requirement would restrict speech based on its content, ACLU of West Virginia legal director Jamie Lynn Crofts told The Charleston Gazette-Mail on Tuesday.
The bill, introduced to the Charleston City Council on Monday, would prohibit individuals from panhandling at high-traffic areas like large intersections and would also apply to organizations soliciting money. The required permits would be free, but would have to be displayed and renewed annually.
Violators of the proposed ordinance could face community service or jail. Two public meetings are planned before the council votes.
“Under the First Amendment, the government can’t say that people must take certain steps in order to exercise their constitutional rights,” Crofts said. “In (the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit), it’s very clear that panhandling is protected under the First Amendment.”
The bill’s lead sponsor, Councilwoman Becky Ceperley, said the point is not to restrict free speech but keep people safe and make sure solicitation is done “in an orderly fashion.”
Ceperley chairs a coalition of agencies, churches and other officials trying to address what Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and police Chief Steve Cooper have said is an influx of “criminal vagrants” in the city.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.