Panhandlers and beggars are now required to get a license in order to ask for money in Middle Township, N.J. Civil rights groups oppose the new ordinance, saying it is unconstitutional.
The police chief says the permits are valid for one year and available free of charge. The law is intended to prevent aggressive panhandlers. Photo identification is also required with the application. Before the permit is given, a warrant check will be conducted. Possible prison time and a fine of $250 is the punishment for those caught without a permit.
Civil rights groups are concerned that the ordinance could spread throughout the state of New Jersey, and give unfair treatment to the homeless.
The ordinance makes it illegal to block traffic while begging; soliciting money at ATMs, bus stops and train stations; and trying to perform services, such as washing windshields for money.
Police Chief Christopher Leusner told the Press of Atlantic City that for the past several months, aggressive begging has become a problem in the Cape May County town.
“It’s a recurring complaint from our residents,” Leusner says. “I’ve gotten numerous complaints from residents that say, ‘Hey, I was in ShopRite, I was on my way to my car and a person followed me and asked me (for money) three or four times.’”
Police officers can only arrest beggars and panhandlers who are harassing people for money. “You can’t write an ordinance so broadly that an individual needs permission from the government to engage in free speech in the public square,” ACLU legal director Ed Barocas says.
People who were in line at Newark soup kitchen are backing the idea, according to News 12 New Jersey. They would cooperate with whatever the law required.
The ordinance will be finalized and take effect Oct. 27.