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ACLU to North Carolina officials: Don't make beggars get permits

January 4, 2012 |  9:42 am

Loose change
Should a panhandler be required to show a photo ID and permit, plus submit to a background check, in order to beg on the street?

Those are among new restrictions on street beggars in effect or under consideration by three governing bodies in North Carolina. But the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina is warning authorities that the requirements may be unconstitutional -- and possible targets of ACLU lawsuits.

The News and Observer of Raleigh reported Wednesday that the ALCU sent out warning letters this week as commissioners in Johnston County, southeast of Raleigh, considered a new panhandling ordinance. The proposed law would require a $20 fee, background check and photo ID for a monthlong panhandling permit.

All three requirements unlawfully restrict free speech, according to the ACLU.

"The least among us, those who have been hit hardest and are really down on their luck, need the most protection under the Constitution," Katy Parker, legal director of the state ACLU, told the newspaper.

Raleigh, the state capital, and surrounding Wake County require a photo ID to obtain a panhandling permit. The permits are free, but Raleigh requires them to be renewed weekly. Wake County’s permits are good for a year.

Last week, Raleigh police arrested eight people for panhandling without a permit, according to the News and Observer.

"What’s happening here is the city of Raleigh, Wake County and Johnston County want to deny panhandlers the ability to do what they have a constitutional right to do,’’ Parker said.

Commissioners in Johnston County passed a panhandling ordinance by a 6-1 vote Tuesday night. But in response to ACLU pressure, the commissioners dropped a proposed requirement that panhandlers pay a $20 monthly fee.

The county’s new law, which requires a photo ID and background check, goes into effect Jan. 15.

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-- David Zucchino in Durham, N.C.

Credit: Los Angeles Times 

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