Federal lawsuit seeks to overturn Arkansas panhandling law
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal judge Monday to halt a new Arkansas anti-loitering law that it says unconstitutionally targets panhandlers and that the restrictions pose the same problems as a ban on begging that was struck down last year.
The ACLU of Arkansas sued the state over the new law, which expands the definition of loitering to include someone in areas such as a public right-of-way, sidewalk, public parking lot or private property asking for anything as charity or a gift in a harassing or threatening manner in a way that’s likely to cause alarm to the other person or creates a traffic hazard. The new law was approved in April and took effect last week.
A federal judge last year struck down a section of the state’s loitering law that prohibited begging for money, food or other charity. The group said the new law has the exact same effect as the previous statute and would infringe on constitutionally protected rights.
“This new statute also restricts protected First Amendment speech and expressive conduct on all public sidewalks, roadways, rights-of-way, and other places historically held open for speech,” the group said in its filing.
The filing also argues the new law selectively targets someone seeking charity or a gift.
“A solicitation to vote for a candidate, attend a meeting, join an organization or eat at a particular restaurant, delivered in the same manner and tone as that for money or other charity would not result in citation or arrest under this provision,” it said.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office said she would review the lawsuit and “intends to fully defend the law that was passed by the General Assembly.”
The ACLU sued the state on behalf of Michael Rodgers, a disabled veteran from Garland County, and Glynn Dilbeck, a homeless man. Both have begged, the group said, and were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the previous anti-begging measure being struck down.
The ACLU has also challenged similar city-level panhandling restrictions in court. Hot Springs last week repealed its panhandling ordinance after it was sued by the group, while Fort Smith also repealed and replaced its ordinance.
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