September 9, 2013

Biddeford may join others, limit panhandling

As in Portland, residents' complaints lead to proposals to ban the activity on medians, and raise constitutional concerns.

By Gillian Graham
Staff Writer

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A woman accepts money from a motorist Friday while panhandling from a median on Route 111 in Biddeford. Her sign reads: “Homeless, hungry, & sober ... Please help!”

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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"Like the Portland ban before it, this proposal definitely raises constitutional concerns. First of all, it appears to ban all manner of constitutionally protected activity, including holding a political sign, collecting signatures or even stopping to talk to a friend," Healy said. "Further, it is unnecessary since there are already laws against people being intoxicated in public, blocking traffic or threatening motorists."

Last month, a Michigan law banning panhandling in public places was struck down by a federal appeals court. The American Civil Liberties Union initially filed the suit in 2011 on behalf of two men who were arrested for begging.

A Utah law banning begging near roads was last year deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge. The ACLU of Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit against the city of Worcester for enacting two anti-panhandling ordinances, one of which prohibits panhandling from street medians.

City Councilor Bob Mills, who chairs the Biddeford council's policy committee, said the committee could vote as soon as Monday to forward its recommendation on the new ordinances to the full council. The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal before voting. 

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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