ACLU Challenges Slidell’s Panhandling Permit Requirement

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union and three people who beg for money at traffic intersections are suing a southeast Louisiana city that requires permits for panhandling.

         The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans says the city of Slidell's requirement violates the panhandlers' First Amendment rights.

         "Slidell officials have tried for years to remove beggars from their streets," Marjorie R. Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in an emailed news release. "Whether they like it or not, free speech applies to all, including those whose speech Slidell officials may not favor."

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         The suit asks the court to block enforcement of the permit requirement, approved by the City Council this year, and declare it unconstitutional. It also seeks unspecified "nominal" damages and attorney fees.

         Plaintiffs in the suit are three Slidell residents: Gary Blitch, David Knight and Daniel Snyder. Blitch is identified in the lawsuit as an Army veteran. The suit says all three beg for money on city streets, usually at high-traffic intersections, almost every day.

         The suit was filed Monday. The city had not filed a response in court by Tuesday afternoon and the city attorney did not immediately reply to a telephoned request for comment.

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         According to the lawsuit, anyone wishing to beg on public property must first get a permit from the police. The permit can be denied if the applicant has been convicted of certain offenses, such as assault or illegal use of a weapon or a violent offense. While panhandling, the person must wear the permit on his or her chest.

         The suit says Snyder was approached in November by an officer who told him he needed a permit as he sought money from motorists at a major intersection. Snyder was not arrested by the officer, who, the suit said, drove away after refusing to provide his name and badge number.

         – by AP Reporter Kevin McGill

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