FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A federal judge on Wednesday blocked Arkansas’ current law that targets panhandling, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU filed its lawsuit against an Arkansas law that targets ‘aggressive’ panhandling in August, saying the legislation violated the First Amendment.
“There are myriad other laws already in existence in Arkansas that deal with public safety concerns, which do not implicate the first amendment rights of people. So I don’t think that’s a valid justification I think that’s an excuse,” said Bettina Brownstein, lead attorney for the ACLU.
This is the second panhandling law that the ACLU has targeted in Arkansas. The state’s previous panhandling law was struck down by the courts in 2016. The courts ruled the law was “too broad” in its approach to regulating panhandling.
Now, U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson has granted a preliminary injunction against the state’s current law, sponsored by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, in 2017, the ACLU said. That law is Act 847, and Wilson specifically enjoined the state from enforcing section 5-71-213(a)(3).
That portion of the law states, “A person commits the offense of loitering if he or she: lingers or remains on a sidewalk, roadway or public right-of-way, in a public parking lot or public transportation vehicle or facility or on private property, for the purpose of asking for anything as charity or a gift in a harassing or threatening manner, in a way likely to cause alarm to the other person or under circumstances creating a traffic hazard or impediment.”
Roy called the law “plainly unconstitional.” He also said the state failed to “satisfy the rigorous constitutional standards that apply when government attempts to regulate expression based on its content.”
To see his full ruling, click here.
“Well we all got a right, I mean you don’t know what a person’s situation is, so I mean you really can’t try to take that away from them, as long as we’re not out here hurting people.” said one Fayetteville panhandler.
Collins released the following statement:
“In his ruling the judge said there are already laws on the Arkansas books that prevent disorderly, dangerous and threatening conduct in general and other laws to keep people out of roadways. So I’m going to try it his way by talking to law enforcement about their ability to use the existing laws the judge cites to protect our citizens from abusive behavior. We’ll see how that goes as a next step.”