I wonder if City Councilwoman Liz Brown wishes she had kept her mouth shut. In July, she proposed changes to existing anti-begging laws that would exempt charitable organizations and "buskers" such as street musicians who perform in exchange for volunary donations. Now, a fellow council member has upped the stakes:
Constitutionally speaking, City Councilman Tim Pape figures, there's not much difference between begging and busking.
So Tuesday, Pape, D-5th, intends to introduce an ordinance that would essentially protect all forms of panhandling as constitutionally protected free speech.
Generally speaking, he's right. Federal courts have held that begging is covered by the First Amendment. But they've allowed a couple of exceptions to such an absolutist interpretation. "Aggressive panhandling" -- beggars who do such things as grab your arms or wash your windhsield and demand payment or won't take no for an answer -- can be forbidden. And there can be time, place and manner restrictions as there are on other forms of speech. Begging can be outlawed that impedes sidewalk flow or presents a traffic hazard, for example. If Pape just introduces somethingt to "protect all forms of panhandling" without taking note of those exceptions, he isn't doing us any favors.
Just as an aside, I sometimes find the "good" panhandlers -- i.e. those begging for charity -- to be a bigger annoynance than the bad ones merely begging for their next bottle of cheap wine. One of those guys came up to me in a parking lot one day last week with the usual "My car broke down and I need bus money" story, I said "Not today, thanks," and he said, "No problem" and moved on. That's the way it almost always goes. But there have been times at the Broadway/Bluffton Road intersection when I've been afraid my car or somebody elese's would mow down one of the kids collecting for their schools or one of the firefighters out their with their boo