LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- A new law, that would have opened panhandlers up to citation, arrest, and prosecution is blocked by a federal judge.
While it may not be illegal to panhandle, both sides of the argument have ideas on how to make it safer for everyone.
"The First Amendment is, in my opinion, sacred. We need to uphold the First Amendment. That's what makes this country great,” said Bettina Brownstein, the ACLU attorney who argued the panhandling penalty law was unconstitutional. "Once you lose First Amendment rights for one group, they will start going away for every group."
Not everyone agrees that panhandling is free-speech.
"There is a difference between free-speech and commercial speech and free speech. I don't know if there's a nexus. I'm not an attorney. But maybe we should regulate panhandling as a business and force them to get a business license,” said City Director, and businessman, Lance Hines.
THV11 met him at the intersection of Bowman and Markham. The area, a common spot for panhandlers and the homeless, is covered in litter. He said he chose that spot, because he wanted to show their presence is more than just an eye sore.
"They wouldn't be out here if people weren't giving them money. So a lot of that's on the general public,” Hines said.
If you feel like you've seen a lot more panhandlers in the city of Little Rock recently, you're certainly not alone. The issue isn’t exclusive to Little Rock, but what people can't seem to agree on is the proper way to help. Houston, Milwaukee, and Lexington are all discouraging residents from giving panhandlers money they can spend tax-free, and instead asking them to donate that money to organizations that can vet who really is in need.
"We've got resources in this city deal with the homeless and homelessness. To try to get that money to those resources would be helpful,” Hines said.
"If you really want to do something to help these people who panhandle, then we need to improve our services. That means the state legislature that is so happy to pass these anti-panhandling laws, they need to pass laws and budget the money for real mental health services for the poor, for real services for the homeless,” argued Brownstein.
Everyone has ideas, but no real solutions have been offered up. So for the time being, expect panhandlers to be present.
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