HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Two Arkansas cities are working to address their panhandling ordinances after being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The lawsuits argue that banning panhandlers from soliciting donations from people in public areas violate free speech rights. City leaders in Hot Springs are now working with the ACLU to resolve the issue, while Fort Smith has repealed and replaced its ordinance.
Holly Dickson, legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said the lawsuit filed against Hot Springs last month will be dropped if the city repeals its ordinance.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey granted Hot Spring’s motion for more time to respond to the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction that would prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance while the case is pending. City Attorney Brian Albright said the city is working with ACLU to come to an “amicable resolution.”
Hot Springs has said that the panhandling ordinance was implemented as a safety measure to protect pedestrians and motorists, and that it wasn’t intended to stifle free-speech rights.
Fort Smith repealed an ordinance that banned panhandling before sunrise and after sunset. It also prohibited panhandling to people in certain areas, including public transportation, in a vehicle on the street or in proximity to a bank entrance, automated teller or a check-cashing business.
The city’s Board of Directors voted Tuesday to replace the ordinance with one that bans anyone not in a vehicle from occupying any portion of a roadway within any public street right-of-way, except at crosswalks and bus stops. One board member voted expressed reservations that the new ordinance might be unconstitutional.