Slidell Suspends Panhandling Prohibition Pending Lawsuit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A suburban New Orleans city has told a judge it won't enforce its law requiring people who ask for money at traffic intersections to get panhandling permits.

         Court records show the city of Slidell agreed Tuesday that it won't enforce the law until a federal judge determines its constitutionality.

         The American Civil Liberties Union and three panhandlers filed a lawsuit last month saying the permit law violates the panhandlers' First Amendment rights.

         The ACLU had asked for a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement. U.S. District Judge Lance Africk dismissed that request in light of the city's decision.

         It's unclear when Africk will rule on the constitutionality of the law. Slidell's formal answer to the suit had not been filed as of Wednesday. No hearing has been scheduled.

         The suit names three plaintiffs, Slidell residents Gary Blitch, David Knight and Daniel Snyder. It says all three panhandle in the city, usually at high-traffic intersections.

         The suit says the Slidell law in question requires anyone wishing to beg on public property to first get a permit from city police. The permit can be denied if the applicant has been convicted of certain offenses, such as assault or illegal use of a weapon or a violent offense.

         While panhandling, the person must wear the permit on his or her chest.

         Marjorie R. Esman, executive director of ACLU of Louisiana, welcomed the city's decision.

         "Until the court issues a final ruling, no one need fear retaliation or arrest in Slidell for engaging in protected speech," she said in an emailed statement.

         – by AP Reporter Kevin McGill



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