BROCKTON, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — It was a vote from the Brockton City Council that repealed a 2019 city ordinance that prohibited citizens from panhandling in public.
The original legislation defined "panhandling" as the solicitation made in person for immediate donations of money, and declared it illegal for any person to practice it in areas with public transportation, parks, and near automated teller machines. Additionally, the ordinance blocked panhandlers from appearing on public property in the Business District of Brockton.
The decision comes after the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the City of Brockton, referencing their lawsuit against the City of Fall River for a similar panhandling ordinance in 2019. The ACLU of Massachusetts says asking for help is not a crime, and that panhandlers are protected under the First Amendment. The ACLU affirms that making panhandling illegal would be an unconstitutional attack on free speech.
In 2020, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in agreement with the ACLU, finding that Fall River's anti-panhandling law was unconstitutional and a violation of free speech.
WBZ's Kim Tunnicliffe spoke to Brockton restaurant owners, who say that panhandlers are continually standing outside their doors to ask for money from customers.
"They've stood at the order speaker, and we have to tell them 'you can't stand there,'" said a worker at the Dunkin' on Westgate Drive.
Councilor-At-Large Winthrop Farwell agrees with the ACLU that panhandlers' freedom of speech should be protected, but adds that the public deserves to be protected too.
Farwell says the Council will work to "figure out what we can do legislatively to make sure people's free speech rights are protected, but also don't interfere with traffic, don't block sidewalks, don't annoy or accost, or make someone feel threatened if someone walks up to them."
WBZ's Kim Tunnicliffe (@KimWBZ) reports.