Expansive SCOTUS ruling forces Savannah to abandon panhandling laws

Expansive SCOTUS ruling forces Savannah to abandon panhandling laws
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - If you’ve been in Savannah for a while, you may remember the city passing an ordinance banning panhandling years ago. Then-mayor Otis Johnson said the issue was about safety, especially given how some people were in the middle of busy roads asking for money.

Today – the ordinance is not enforced. A supreme court ruling in 2015 that got limited attention is what caused the city of Savannah to stop enforcing the ordinance. The high court basically said outlawing panhandling violated the First Amendment of the people you’re targeting. Now – in Savannah, you’ve likely seen people off the interstate and at other intersections in town asking for money.

The interim city attorney said they’re waiting on more direction from the Supreme Court before drafting another ordinance. Alderman Tony Thomas brought up aggressive panhandling at last week’s council work shop when discussing issues in Forsyth Park.

“We have been paying a lot of attention to panhandling and aggressive panhandling, but at this point in time, I’m not comfortable making a recommendation on an ordinance that would survive scrutiny,” said Interim City Attorney, Jennifer Herman, in response. “My preference would be for the Supreme Court to weigh in on it to give us some direction.”

To be clear, officers can still arrest people who are violating other city ordinances or laws, especially if someone is being disruptive or cursing. It just can’t be for the actual panhandling.

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