Panhandling: constitutional right or nuisance?

Panhandling: constitutional right or nuisance? »Play Video

BEND, Ore. (AP) — Some members of the Bend City Council want to craft a new law that would address the growing number of panhandlers around town, saying people who ask for money on the streets pose potential safety issues.

But creating an ordinance that doesn't violate a panhandler's constitutional rights could be difficult. Other cities throughout Oregon have seen their own ordinances overturned by judges time and again.

"Oregon has had a number of laws over the decades that attempted in one way or another to restrict panhandling or begging, and most of those ordinances have been thrown out as unconstitutional under the Oregon free speech protections and Bill of Rights," said David Fidanque, the executive director of the Oregon chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Medford, for instance, had a law banning solicitation anywhere within 50 feet of a bank or ATM and other public places until Jackson County Circuit Judge Lorenzo Mejia struck down the city ordinance last month, saying it violated the Oregon Constitution's free speech protection.

He said the Medford law "focused on the content of the speech."

Even a statewide law prohibiting solicitation along highways was overturned in 1996 after the ACLU took a homeless man's case to the Oregon Court Appeals.

One ordinance that hasn't yet been challenged was passed by the city of Roseburg in 2007 and specifically targets transferring money and other goods from, or into, vehicles on streets and highways.

The city's ordinance did not aim to limit people's ability to ask for help, said Roseburg police Chief Mark Nickel.

Rather, it only addressed concerns over the safety of panhandlers and people handing out money along the road.

Panhandling has slowed in the past two years, Nickel said, and police have yet to issue a citation.

Bend has no specific ordinance restricting the solicitation of money, goods or services in public areas.

But in a recent meeting of the Bend City Council, some councilors said the growing number of panhandlers could be become a serious problem. They asked City Attorney Mary Winters to look into the matter and report back later this spring.

Bend City Councilor Oran Teater says any ordinance must be carefully crafted, but panhandling still must be addressed.


Information from: The Bulletin,