Saturday, May 13, 2006

Is Gainesville's panhandling
ordinance unconstitutional?

Three homeless people in Gainesville are challenging laws which prohibiting panhandling near city roads.

Their lawsuit says the laws violate the First Amendment by infringing on freedom of speech and they violate the 14th Amendment, which provides for equal protection for all citizens, because they are worded vaguely, allowing police to selectively enforce them.

"Charitable solicitation, begging and panhandling have long been recognized as protected First Amendment activities," said lawyer Shelbi Day. "And public streets and sidewalks have long been recognized as public."

Two of the plaintiffs, Judith Chase and Ollen Rogers, were issued citations while standing on the side of the road holding signs. A third, Joseph Nelson, was arrested for the same offense.

"We will defend our ordinances and the actions of our police department," he said Gainesville City Attorney Marion Radson.

The city allows organizations to gather donations on city streets, as in the case of annual "Fill the Boot" fundraiser held by firefighters for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The state laws also include an exception for political campaigning.

"If you open up a public forum for one group you can't prohibit it for another," Day said.

Read the Gainesville Sun report here.


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