- Associated Press - Thursday, June 29, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union is suing three Arkansas cities over ordinances that ban panhandling.

The lawsuits filed Tuesday argue that the measures in Rogers, Fort Smith and Hot Springs infringe on free speech rights, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/2skWhUU ) reported.

A federal court ruling in November overturned a state anti-begging law as an infringement of free speech. Although several cities in Arkansas have local anti-panhandling ordinances, the only ones enforcing them are Rogers, Fort Smith and Hot Springs, ACLU spokeswoman Holly Dickson said.

The city staff attorney in Rogers, Jennifer Waymack, said Rogers would’ve listened to any objections had the ACLU brought them to the city. She said the city wasn’t made aware of any complaints before receiving notice of the lawsuit, which challenges an ordinance in Rogers that prohibits soliciting for donations.

“I can assure you if I had ignored a complaint of any problem with an ordinance, whether it was a legal problem or not, I’d be concerned if I had a job tomorrow,” Waymack said. “That’s the way this city administration and city council is.”

The suit against Fort Smith mentions two ordinances: one approved in February that severely restricts panhandling within the city limits, and another that bans panhandling at parks is unconstitutional. In Hot Springs, the ACLU is challenging a city code that prohibits entering a public street to solicit.

The lawsuits seek to overturn the ordinances, along with attorneys’ fees. Dickson said the ACLU is also planning to challenge an anti-loitering law in Arkansas that is scheduled to take effect later this year.

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Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.nwaonline.com


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