Free speech • Civil rights attorney warns ordinance is flawed.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Orem • Panhandlers here have to stay out of the streets and not pester people when they solicit money.
The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance outlawing aggressive panhandling. City Attorney Paul B. Johnson said the ordinance is a response to complaints from residents about panhandlers who have wandered into traffic or harassed people.
But civil rights attorney Brian Barnard believes the ordinance, like other anti-panhandling ordinances, has constitutional flaws.
Barnard said the ordinance was written so broadly that it would bar someone from waving to a driver in a commercial parking lot, or to have a message targeted to drivers.
He also said the ordinance gives far too much discretion to police, whom he said would be likely to target "scruffy" looking people.
"The fact that the ordinance directs law enforcement not to enforce it in an 'absurd, impossible or unreasonable' manner does not save the ordinance from being unconstitutional," Barnard said in an email.
But Johnson said the ordinance does not go as far as Barnard claims.
Specifically, he said people are permitted to panhandle wherever they are legally permitted. He added language to the ordinance at the council meeting to clarify that people can solicit handouts from sidewalks, but not if they step off the curb and interfere with traffic.
The only resident who spoke on the ordinance was Judy Cox, who was concerned about panhandlers' rights to hold up a sign on a sidewalk.
"My concern was that we not step on that aspect of free speech," Cox said.
Johnson said the goal was not to infringe on free speech.
"We've made it clear with the amendment that we are not talking about passive solicitation," Johnson said. "We are talking about following people, getting in their way, touching them and yelling at them," Johnson said.
He pointed out that even the city's firefighters are banned from going in the street to collect donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual fund drive, as their counterparts in other cities do.
The ordinance also bars panhandlers from soliciting handouts near banks, ATMs or check-cashing businesses without permission from the property owner.
Johnson pointed out that the ordinance did not go as far as the anti-panhandling ordinance proposed in Salt Lake City, which would have barred panhandlers from approaching people standing in lines outside movie theaters and other businesses.