Slidell set to enforce panhandling rules

Slidell set to enforce panhandling rules

SLIDELL, LA (WVUE) - City Council members only slightly amended an ordinance regulating panhandlers Tuesday evening after the ACLU claimed it violated First Amendment rights.

The ordinance requires anyone panhandling in city limits to obtain a free permit from the Slidell Police Department and wear that permit around their neck while begging for money.

Many residents are pleased to see the change and said the panhandlers on major roads are becoming more common.

"All since I've grown up we've had a few of them, but in the last year or so it's just doubled and tripled," said Sarah Toranto, a Slidell resident.

Panhandler Sam Musacchia, who spent Tuesday afternoon asking for money on Gause Boulevard, said he's willing to follow the new rule.

"It works. They might have pedophiles, rapists, and killers - I'm not. I'm just a stranded man down on my luck. That's pretty cool, I didn't know that," Musacchia said.

The ACLU isn't as pleased with the new rule, though, sending a letter to the Slidell Council asking them to repeal the law and claiming it violates the First Amendment.

"It is unconstitutional. It has been held unconstitutional over and over again to interfere with people's rights to simply ask for money," said Marjorie Esman with the ACLU of Louisiana.

During the council meeting Tuesday night, city attorney Brian Haggerty told the council that other cities that tried to enforce begging laws did not always have success.

"Others have been challenged and they have been defeated, and a lot of it has to do with the way the ordinances are crafted," Haggerty said, noting that several similar ordinances remain in place.

Slidell thinks its ordinance is crafted narrowly enough to avoid those challenges, claiming it's not trying to push out beggars, but to increase safety.

The ACLU isn't buying it.

"To force someone to go to the police in order to exercise their First Amendment right is the same thing as telling somebody, 'in order to go to church you have to register with the police.' It's the same right that everyone has," Esman said.

"The city is not attempting to ban beggars and panhandlers. The city is not attempting to infringe on any First Amendment right for anyone," Haggerty said.

The chief of police will give a 30-day grace period once the mayor signs the ordinance in an effort to educate panhandlers about the new law. Police will likely begin enforcement by the end of the year.

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