Citations issued in Milwaukee for panhandling on medians or freeway ramps. Source: WTMJ-TV News
The city of Milwaukee has tried to control them, but the problem remains and has even found its way into the suburbs.
Some localities have had second thoughts on banning panhandlers as they contemplate a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision. In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, the court ruled that government regulations curtailing free speech have to be as narrow as possible and must fulfill a “compelling government interest.” At issue was a town ordinance that restricted where signs for religious services could be displayed. The decision applies to any local rules that limit certain types of speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has long opposed bans on aggressive panhandling and believes the high court case greatly helps their cause.
“People who ask for donations for themselves deserve the same protections under the First Amendment as someone asking others to donate to a charity,” Chris Ott, executive director of the ACLU Wisconsin, told Wisconsin Public Radio.
“If two people were walking down the street and someone said, ‘I want to raise money for a charity, can you give me $500 or $1,000 to feed the homeless?’ That would have been permissible under any of these quote anti-panhandling ordinances unquote,” said Karyn Rotker, an attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin. But it’s her contention that under anti-panhandling laws a person on the street would not be able to ask for $2 to feed himself or herself.
So panhandlers aren’t going away. I recently found this report by John Stossel from a couple of years ago. If you thought those panhandlers were phony, you were right.