State Lawmaker Proposes Easing Panhandling Ban

Jan 10, 2014

A state lawmaker is crafting what he hopes is a legal fix to the statewide ban on begging that was struck down last year as unconstitutional. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer explains.


In October, U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake voided a long-standing state law which makes it illegal to beg in a public place. He agreed with charges by the American Civil Liberties Union that there is a First Amendment right to beg. Now, Rep. John Kavanagh has come up with a narrower restriction, which would make it a crime to beg in an aggressive fashion. That includes touching someone, stalking them or using abusive language or gestures. And, it would ban panhandling near bank entrances, ATMs and bus stops.

“Any time a person is less free to move, less free to escape this person, then they’re in a vulnerable situation,” Kavanagh said. “An individual shouldn’t be allowed to stand by a bus stop and, if the person wants to avoid being hit up, have to move away and possibly miss their bus.”

ACLU attorney Dan Pochoda said states are entitled to enact reasonable restrictions on begging, though he’s still studying to see if these would pass muster. But, Kavanagh is confident his proposals will be upheld because they do not ban panhandling outright.

“All the person has to do is step back a foot, or not do it near an ATM machine or a bus stop. And that still leaves 99.9 percent of locations available to ply their First Amendment right to bum money from somebody else,” Kavanagh said.