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ACLU Asks 69 Ohio Cities To Repeal Panhandling Restrictions

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press

The ACLU of Ohio is taking aim at laws against panhandling in dozens of cities across the state, as part of a nationwide effort coordinated with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

The campaign says it sent letters to 69 cities in the state asking them to repeal the ordinances.  

“The First Amendment protects requests for charity in public places,” the letters read in part. “The government’s authority to regulate such speech is exceedingly limited.”

Although the ACLU did not target Columbus, which recently voted to restrict “aggressive panhandling,” the campaign did send letters to Worthington, Westerville, Bexley, Whitehall, Obetz and Grove City.

Many other cities targeted in the letter-writing campaign are clustered in Northeast Ohio. Euclid bans “aggressive” panhandling that includes using profanity while asking for money. Woodmere prohibits “vagrants” from begging, loitering, or “strolling about.”

Joseph Mead, an attorney working with the ACLU, said litigation is a possibility.

“I don’t know every particular city, how aggressive they’re being, or whether they even have many panhandlers in the city,” Mead said. “But they need to get rid of these laws.”

Cleveland and Akron dropped anti-panhandling laws after ACLU suits. Columbus stopped enforcing its previous panhandling ordinance in 2017 after a U.S. Supreme Court decision about church signs.

The campaign is sending letters to cities in 12 states.

Read an example letter here.

Correction: A previous version of this story wrongly identified the organization involved in the campaign.