The city is tweaking its panhandling laws to allow the free speech right to cuss, but to ban repeated panhandling requests.
The proposed code change also identifies exactly where a panhandler can stand to solicit from passing cars and trucks.
It is against city code for someone who is asking for money to use “profane or abusive language either during the solicitation or following a refusal to make a donation.”
But that cussing ban is being eliminated under proposed code changes. Instead, the city’s panhandling ordinance will prohibit “repeated panhandling requests after a person has refused, ignored or declined an immediate prior solicitation.”
“Abusive language is in the eye of the beholder,” said City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick. Basically the city is trying to prohibit harassment without infringing on people’s First Amendment rights, he said.
Soliciting on sidewalks is protected speech. But panhandlers can’t keep harassing people who indicate they’re not participating, he said.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes to the city's panhandling ordinance during Monday’s 3 p.m. meeting and is expected to vote on the proposals Dec. 11.
The city’s panhandling ordinance also prohibits touching the solicited person, following a person who walks away and blocking the path to the entrance of a building or vehicle of a person being solicited.
It is also against the law to panhandle after sunset or before sunrise or make any statement, gesture or communication that would cause a reasonable person to be fearful of “imminent bodily harm or to feel intimidated to make a donation.”
The proposed code changes will also prohibit panhandlers from standing on streets, highways or medians to panhandle from people in cars and trucks. Current city code is more general and prohibits such solicitation when the person is standing within a public right-of-way.
The new languages makes it clear the solicitation ban "is curb to curb,” said Kirkpatrick. Being specific is helpful for prosecutors, police and citizens, he said.
Omaha has banned solicitation on specific busy streets, but allows it on other streets. However, Lincoln bans this solicitation on all streets, based on public safety issues and distraction to drivers, Kirkpatrick said.
“We think it is a safety concern,” he said.
“This is a different approach from Omaha, but then we do a lot of things differently from Omaha,” he said.