ACLU: Sacramento County Panhandling Ordinance Unconstitutional

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The ACLU of Northern California and an attorney representing homeless groups an individuals say Sacramento County’s recently passed panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional.

It prohibits individuals from asking for money near banks or ATM’s, driveways to businesses, bus stops, intersections and roadway medians, as well as gas stations.

Such ordinances are not uncommon in many jurisdictions, but a lawsuit filed in federal court says the county ordinance violates free speech and violates the principle of equal protection under the law.

Plaintiff attorney Mark Merin says that’s because the ordinance does not apply to everyone.

“There is a big exemption and that exemption is for all non-profit causes that people like,” said Merin.

He says people can solicit money in public for cancer research or for the girl scouts, but a homeless person who needs money to survive isn’t allowed to do the same thing.

Homeless people we talked with agreed with Merin that aggressive panhandling should be banned.

“If they don’t want to give us nothing, we leave them alone. We leave them alone O.K., but we hold up a sign. That’s just holding a sign.” occasional panhandler Tom Rodriguez said.

“It’s not fun out here doing this, it’s embarrassing,” David Pratt said. He and his wife have been homeless for six months. “We have a right to ask for a donation just like a charity. We have a right to ask for money to feed ourselves.”

But county officials say their ordinance is not a violation of the constitution. It does not ban panhandling, just around certain areas. Business groups and residents say panhandlers holding signs downgrade the community and chases customers away.

The ordinance has not been enforced since it was passed, with deputies handing out warnings initially. Citations and possible arrests will come soon.

Attorneys filing the lawsuit hope for an August court date. They are asking for an injunction to keep the ordinance from being enforced.

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