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Local News

ACLU again urges repeal of Joliet panhandler law

Sign displayed by man seeking donations in 2018 from motorists passing corner of Jefferson Street and Springfield Avenue.
Sign displayed by man seeking donations in 2018 from motorists passing corner of Jefferson Street and Springfield Avenue.

The American Civil Liberties Union again is urging Joliet to change its panhandling law.

The city has not responded to an ACLU letter sent nearly a year ago to Joliet and other Illinois cities urging the repeal of panhandler laws the organization says are unconstitutional.

Joliet City Attorney Martin Shanahan said Monday that the city is not making panhandling arrests and plans to repeal the law when it is ready to replace it with one that “passes constitutional muster.”

“We’ll be working toward repealing the ordinance and writing another ordinance,” Shanahan said. “That’s where the hang-up is.”

In the meantime, Shanahan said, he is forwarding the ACLU letter to the police department to “make them aware of the situation.”

Joliet is among five towns that have not made any changes to panhandling laws since they were sent warning letters by advocacy groups in August, the ACLU said.

It’s not clear what the advocacy groups can or will do if the ordinances are not changed. Shanahan said the city is not subject to litigation unless it takes action based on the ordinance.

The letter sent by the ACLU last week to Joliet, like one sent a year ago, said the group intends “to consider all available legal options to protect the rights of panhandlers in Joliet.”

ACLU senior staff attorney Amy Meek, who sent the letter, said the Joliet ordinance, even if not enforced, “could have a chilling effect on people’s rights to go out and ask for donations.”

The ACLU contends the Joliet panhandler ordinance violates the constitutional right to freedom of speech and points to a 2015 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Laws with language similar to what is found in the Joliet ordinance have been successfully challenged in court, according to the ACLU.

The Joliet ordinance prohibits standing “on a highway or street for the purpose of soliciting contributions from the occupant of any vehicle,” but excepts licensed charitable organizations.

The ACLU seeks a response from Joliet by Aug. 19.

According to the ACLU, nine municipalities have repealed or changed their panhandler ordinances since the notice was sent a year ago. They are Chicago, Aurora, Elgin, Oak Park, Moline, Peoria, Champaign, Urbana and Decatur.

Five cities including Joliet have not made changes. Others are Rockford, Cicero, Danville and Carbondale.

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