Middle Township in New Jersey recently made national headlines for passing an ordinance designed to crackdown on “aggressive” panhandling. The ordinance requires beggars to obtain a free permit and restricts the areas in which they can solicit money.
According to local officials, Middle Township adopted the new law after receiving complaints from the public about the forceful and persistent tactics used by some panhandlers, such as following people to their cars in parking lots. Thus, the ordinance specifically targets “aggressive begging,” which is defined as “speaking to or following a person in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon the person or upon property upon the person’s immediate possession or would intimidate another person into giving money or goods.”
The Middle Township ordinance also limits when and where beggars can ask for money. Some of the restrictions include:
- No person may ask, beg or solicit alms in any public transportation vehicle or at any bus or train station or stop.
- No person may ask, beg or solicit alms within 100 feet of any automatic teller machine (ATM).
- No person may ask, beg or solicit alms from any operator or occupant of a motor vehicle that is in traffic on a public street.
- No person may ask, beg or solicit alms from any operator or occupant of a motor vehicle on a public street in exchange for blocking, occupying or reserving a public parking space or directing them operator or occupant to a public parking space.
- No person may ask, beg or solicit alms in exchange for cleaning motor vehicle windows while the vehicle is in traffic on a public street
- No person may ask, beg or solicit alms on private property or residential property without permission from the owner or occupant.
- No person may ask, beg or solicit alms between the hours of 8:00 PM and 8:00 AM.
Under the licensing scheme, beggars must apply for a permit. It is good for one year and provided free of charge. However, photo identification is required with the application, and a warrant check will be conducted before a permit is issued. Violations of the permitting requirement or the begging guidelines can result in a fine up to $250.00 plus up to 30 days jail time and up to five days of court approved community service for the first offense.
Other municipalities that have passed or considered panhandling ordinances requiring a licensing fee have faced questions regarding their constitutionality from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. While Middle Township’s law eliminates this concern, it is possible that it may face legal challenges for restricting free speech.
For more information about the ordinance or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.