Worcester’s Anti-Panhandling Ordinances Struck Down
(Associated Press) - A federal judge has struck down two anti-panhandling ordinances in Worcester, saying they unconstitutionally restrict free speech.
One of the ordinances prohibited panhandling within 20 feet of bus stops, ATMs and restaurants. The other prohibited standing on traffic islands.
In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit on behalf of three residents to block the ordinances, arguing that they violate the constitutional right to peacefully solicit donations in public and to engage in political and other speech.
In his ruling Monday, Judge Timothy Hillman wrote that cities need to craft solutions that recognize an individual's rights under the First Amendment while ensuring their conduct does not threaten their own safety or the safety of others.
A similar panhandling ordinance in Lowell was struck down last month.
The New Bedford City Council is studying ways to curb panhandling in the city, and was waiting to see whether the proposed ordinances in Worcester would be ruled constitutional before taking any final action on its own.