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Mon January 7, 2013
Worcester to Vote on Legality of Panhandling
A plan by Worcester's city manager to curb aggressive panhandling is moving toward a City Council vote.
The plan would prohibit people from soliciting money from motorists while standing in the street. It also would ban people from soliciting money while walking in and out of traffic or standing on a traffic island.
Worcester City Councilor Konstantina Lukes supports the proposal, saying soliciting for money became a huge public safety concern when groups like little league teams and veterans’ organizations moved their fundraising days to the streets.
“So what’s happening is children and adults were aggressively in the streets darting in and out of traffic at busy intersections,” Lukes explained. “This was escalated by the panhandling phenomenon, which has increased in the last 7, 8, 9 years, so that the panhandling started to get aggressive, just like the tag sales started getting aggressive.”
Critics of the proposed ordinance say it is a threat to free speech. Matt Segal, Legal Director of the ACLU in Boston, says there are already sufficient laws that address harassment or dangerous behavior.
“There are plenty of laws already on the books that prohibit harassing or dangerous behavior in the roadways, right? You can be ticketed for jay-walking,” Segal argued. “But if you have an ordinance that says it’s OK to be on the street or near the street unless your reason for being there is to asking for money, then that’s the restriction that turns on the speech of the person engaged in the conduct.”
Segal disagrees with the law’s emphasis, which is on soliciting money rather than dangerous behavior.
“The ordinances don’t seem to be addressed to a concern about safety,” he said. “They seem to be addresses to the social awkwardness of having to say no or to deal with people who are asking for money, and that’s not just consistent with the 1st amendment.”
The proposed ordinance will go before the entire City Council later this month.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.