St. Charles repeals panhandling law after court ruling
St. Charles has repealed its ban on panhandling following a court ruling that such laws are unconstitutional.
The city council took the action during its meeting last week.
"Although the court order is applicable only to the parties in that litigation, any enforcement by the city of St. Charles of a similar ordinance would result in a legal challenge seeking injunctive relief, monetary damages and attorneys' fees for violations of First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution," St. Charles Police Chief James Keegan said. "With this decision in mind, it clearly becomes a greater risk for any municipality or its police officers to enforce such panhandling restrictions and therefore, I recommend the repeal of this ordinance."
Last year, a federal court in Illinois ruled the state's panhandling law was unconstitutional, saying that it is a free speech violation. The ruling followed a federal lawsuit filed by two panhandlers in Downers Grove, who had argued that while the law prohibited panhandling, pedestrians who obtained a permit could stand in medians to collect political signatures and distribute literature.
Downers Grove's panhandling ordinance was modeled after a state statute that said, "No person shall stand on a highway for the purpose of soliciting employment or business from the occupant of any vehicle."
Fourth Ward Alderman Bryan Wirball wondered how the ruling would apply to private property.
"My understanding is that our officers cannot enforce this anywhere in our corporate limits," Keegan replied. "I don't think we have any enforcement authority whatsoever."
City attorney Nicholas Peppers said the city would have different options to deal with that scenario, such as charging a person with trespassing.
"There are different avenues for the police to enforce whether the activity is on the right of way or on private property," he said. "But it doesn't fall under just panhandling or begging."