Newport News is changing their laws when it comes to panhandling. They determined asking for money is a first amendment right, so police will stop cracking down on those looking for a hand out.
“There is no argument now about whether you can or cannot,” said Mayor McKinley Price
On Tuesday Price and the City Council unanimously voted to repeal laws against panhandling. Up until now it was illegal to panhandle after sunset or before sunrise, or aggressively. Those who did faced a class four misdemeanor.
“There were some issues of freedom of speech so we eliminated that so people do have the right to panhandle,” said Price.
The city was worried they could get sued if they didn’t change the law.
“I think there have been some suits and I just don’t think the city wanted to go down that road,” said Price.
No one at the meeting spoke out against the change of law.
“To make it completely illegal does border on freedom of speech, the first amendment,” said resident Adrian Whitcomb.
The city did leave some important wiggle room. Police officers have the right to step in and issue citations if the panhandler is causing a safety concern.
“They can’t be in the median, in the street, going up to your car, because those are safety issues,” said Price.
Residents say the biggest problem is you don’t know who really needs help and who is running a scam. So cities like Hampton have put up signs discouraging their residents from giving to panhandlers and instead donate to a reputable charity. Newport News says their city could implement the same system.
“I think that’s a good idea letting people know where appropriate help could be and you know when you are giving to an organization you are helping everyone,” said Price.