Pan­han­dling suit’s court date set

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - LINDA SATTER

U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wil­son on Wed­nes­day sched­uled a hear­ing for Sept. 5 on the va­lid­ity of a newly writ­ten state pan­han­dling law.

Wil­son will hear ar­gu­ments be­gin­ning at 9:30 a.m. from at­tor­neys for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Arkansas, which is seek­ing a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion to block the law’s en­force­ment, and the Arkansas at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, which is de­fend­ing the law.

In a fed­eral law­suit filed Mon­day, the ACLU said the law that took ef­fect ear­lier this month isn’t an im­prove­ment on an ear­lier one that Wil­son threw out as un­con­sti­tu­tional in Novem­ber.

The new ver­sion, Act 847 of 2017, amends Sec­tion (a)(3) of Arkansas Code An­no­tated 5-71-213 to pro­vide spe­cific def­i­ni­tions of “pub­lic place” and “beg­ging.” The old sec­tion, which had been on the books for more than 30 years, made it il­le­gal for a per­son to “linger or re­main in a pub­lic place, or on the premises of an­other, for the pur­pose of beg­ging.”

The new word­ing ap­plies to any­one who “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 a char­ity or a gift: (a) in a harass­ing or threat­en­ing man­ner; (b) in a way likely to cause alarm to the other per­son; or (c) un­der cir­cum­stances that cre­ate a traf­fic hazard or im­ped­i­ment.”

The law­suit al­leges that “on its face, the new statute dis­crim­i­nates against one type of speech” by lim­it­ing the law’s ap­pli­ca­tion to any­one stand­ing or re­main­ing “for the pur­pose of ask­ing for any­thing as a gift.”

The ACLU pointed out that it is le­gal to linger for the pur­pose of so­lic­it­ing a vote, at­tend­ing a meet­ing, join­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion or eat­ing at a par­tic­u­lar restau­rant.

Un­der a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sion, any law that reg­u­lates speech on the ba­sis of its con­tent vi­o­lates the First Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion un­less it is nar­rowly tai­lored to pro­mote a com­pelling gov­ern­ment in­ter­est.

Wil­son said in Novem­ber that by ban­ning beg­ging in all places, at all times, by all peo­ple, in all ways, Arkansas’ anti-beg­ging law in­fringed on the free­dom of speech guar­an­teed in the First Amend­ment.

The ACLU also con­tends that the new word­ing fails to de­fine ask­ing for char­ity “in harass­ing or threat­en­ing man­ner” or “in a way likely to cause alarm,” which it says doesn’t give any­one fair no­tice of what con­sti­tutes pun­ish­able con­duct.

On Wed­nes­day, Wil­son or­dered the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice to re­spond to the pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion re­quest by the close of busi­ness Aug. 25.

So far, a spokesman for the of­fice has said only that At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge will re­view the law­suit “and in­tends to fully de­fend” the new ver­sion of the law.

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