Cities across America are stepping up efforts to restrict panhandling, especially in downtown shopping areas, reports USA Today. Panhandling on public transportation can get you a year in jail in Medford, Ore. Telling a lie while asking for money in Macon, Ga., is against the law. In Minneapolis, begging in groups has been banned. In the past year, more than a dozen municipalities – from Olympia, Wash., to Orlando – have passed or strengthened such ordinances. At least four more are close to adoption in Texas, Hawaii, North Carolina and Washington state.
Cities have enacted laws targeting the homeless for two decades, including bans on sleeping outdoors or loitering. In the past few years, the focus has turned to panhandling restrictions, said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. That’s partly because more cities are trying to redevelop their downtowns, Foscarinis said. Homeless advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union consider begging to be free speech, protected by the First Amendment. “The purpose of the laws is to drive the visible homeless out of the downtown areas,” said Michael Stoops of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless. “We believe that people have a right to beg, and citizens have a right to give or not to give.”