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Ordinance Aims to Restrict Free Speech Rights in Sacramento?

Sacramento Supervisor Susan Peters issued the following in her electronic newsletter with information on an ordinance which targets Panhandling (a protected form of free speech).  In the newsletter, this protected form of free speech is labeled as a problem and safety concern.  Should this First Amendment Right have restrictions? It's a battle that is being waged across the country.

Panhandling is a problem and poses a safety concern especially when done on street medians with traffic, freeway ramps, etc. - and for many of us aggressive panhandling near ATMs, banks, and gasoline stations can be intimidating and threating especially when we are confined in our car when approached.

In recognition of that, the Board of Supervisors last month adopted an ordinance to address aggressive panhandling in the unincorporated area similar to laws that exist in the cities of Sacramento, Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Galt.

The first two violations under the ordinance will be treated as infractions, requiring an appearance in traffic court. A third infraction within six months of the last one will be treated as a misdemeanor, potentially subjecting someone to under a year in jail if prosecuted (prosecution is at the discretion of the Sacramento County District Attorney).

Captain Matt Morgan who is in charge of the Sheriff's North Division that serves the unincorporated communities of Arden Arcade, Carmichael, Fair Oaks, and North Highlands says deputies will spend the first 60 days once the ordinance is in effect (June 12) informing panhandlers about the new law including handing out information listing nearby charities where they can seek assistance.

The ordinance expressly prohibits solicitations at ATMs, near an entrance or exit of any financial institution, gasoline stations, toward persons operating or occupying a motor vehicle within 200 feet of an intersection or located within 35 feet of a driveway of a shopping center, retail or business establishment as well as on any public transportation vehicle or within 50 feet of any designated transit stop.

While panhandling is viewed as a protected form of free speech, the ordinance has been crafted to comply with the First Amendment.

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