Slidell gears up to put panhandling permit requirement into effect

Ashley Rodrigue talks about a new ordinance in Slidell.

SLIDELL -- "It's tough. It's not easy like people think it is," said David Knight, "You have your good days and your bad days."

Every day, Knight heads out to the corner of Gause Boulevard and Tyler Street hoping for a few handouts to get by.

At the same time, Slidell leaders say complaints about aggressive beggars keep coming in from people like Joey Duvernay.

"It seems like you can't go a single day without seeing someone in the middle of the intersection begging for money, faking a limp," Duvernay said.

In the past, Slidell Police would simply arrest problematic panhandlers. However, in 2013, the ACLU challenged that city ordinance citing a violation of the first amendment.

Since then, city leaders have been researching a way to respect the right to beg and the right to not be bothered.  They've come up with a requirement for panhandlers to get a permit from police before hitting city corners or other public property. 

The application has to be submitted 48 hours before the panhandling can begin.  Once approved, the permit lasts for a year. However, the permit does not allow beggars to panhandle wherever they want. The city's ordinance maintains that traffic lanes cannot be blocked and beggars cannot panhandle closer than 20 feet from outdoor seating at restaurants or ATM's. 

The police chief can deny a permit if the applicant has been previously convicted of an offense related to begging like harassment, stalking or assault, and the permit can be revoked if a panhandler is found guilty of committing any of those crimes while permitted. A person can also be issued a misdemeanor for making false statements on the application.

City leaders say the ordinance is a compromise because the permit is free, but having a panhandler's information on record allows for the city to monitor activity in case complaints are filed against a beggar. Also, any panhandler that gets a permit has to display it like a necklace so drivers can tell whether the panhandler is following the rules or not.

Knight thinks it's fair, especially to keep panhandling peaceful.

"You've got a lot of people out here who are wanted, people don't know what they're capable of," Knight said.

But the ACLU says there are laws already on the books to address the aggressive behavior.

"Nobody has to register with the government to exercise their freedoms on the off chance that somebody might abuse those freedoms," said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana.

It's a debate that continues, along with efforts to meet in the middle.

When the ordinance is finalized at the end of October, police say they will spend the following 30 days educating the community about the permit requirement.

Enforcement will start at the end of November, where panhandling without a permit will be considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a jail sentence of up to six months or a fine of no more than $500.
 

(© 2016 WWL)


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment