Notes: Alexandria repeals potentially litigious panhandling ordinance

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Sign asking for money (photo via Maarten van den Heuvel/Unsplash)

A few days after it first came up in City Council discussion, the Council voted on Saturday to fully repeal an anti-panhandling ordinance the city attorney warned could be a First Amendment violation.

The Washington Post reported that the Council unanimously voted to repeal the restrictions at the public hearing this weekend.

The ordinance — which has been on the books since 1994 — prohibits panhandling on buses, near Metro stations and within 15 feet of an ATM, along with restrictions against ‘aggressive’ panhandling.

An Alexandria police officer speaking with the City Council on Tuesday said the ordinance was rarely enforced, if ever, and City Attorney Joanna Anderson said most of those restrictions — except the ATM one — are covered in other parts of city ordinance.

While the ordinance against panhandling saw little to no enforcement, Anderson warned it still opened the city up to potential First Amendment lawsuits.

“You can’t regulate certain types of speakers differently than other people in the public right of way; that’s where it causes the First Amendment concern,” Anderson said. “There shouldn’t be a law specific to panhandlers: it’s the content of what the person is doing in the right of way.”

Image via Maarten van den Heuvel/Unsplash

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