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Court Upholds Panhandling Law.

Fort Lauderdale Prevails Over ACLU

The city of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. won an important battle for cities everywhere by successfully arguing that its regulation prohibiting all forms of soliciting, begging and panhandling on the Fort Lauderdale Beach did not violate the First Amendment freedom of speech rights of homeless people.

Fort Lauderdale won the appeal against the ACLU in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, thereby refusing to hear the case on November 1, 1999. This case is important for cities because the court has upheld a local rule banning begging in a non-hostile, non -aggressive manner in a public place.

Fort Lauderdale's regulation states that its intent is "to provide citizens with a safe environment in which recreational opportunity can be maximized." It further prohibits soliciting, begging or panhandling on the Fort Lauderdale Beach area "to eliminate nuisance activity on the beach and provide patrons with a pleasant environment in which to recreate." The city and the ACLU agreed that tourism played an important economic role in the State of Florida and for the City of Fort Lauderdale, that "Fort Lauderdale is the premiere tourist location of Broward County," and that the "beach area is Fort Lauderdale's number one tourist attraction."

The court, in reaching its decision to uphold the city's rule, acknowledged that begging is a form of speech for purposes of the First Amendment, and that Fort Lauderdale's rule sought to restrict speech in a public forum (the beach and adjacent areas).

Under First Amendment caselaw, the city can restrict speech in a public forum provided that the regulation does not restrict the content of the speech, but rather only the time, place or manner of expression. Such a time, place and manner restriction can only survive a First Amendment challenge if it is content neutral, narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leaves open ample alternative methods of communication.

In applying this legal test to Fort Lauderdale's rule, the court held that the rule was content neutral because it was not aimed at the content of the action of soliciting, begging or panhandling, but rather at the secondary effects of such conduct on tourism and the surrounding community.

The court also held that the city's rule was narrowly tailored to serve the city's interest in providing a safe, pleasant environment and eliminating nuisance activity on the beach.

In so determining, the court stated that "the city has made the discretionary determination that begging in this designated, limited beach area adversely impacts tourism.

Without second-guessing that judgment, we cannot conclude that banning begging in this limited beach area burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government's legitimate interest."

The court also found that begging, soliciting, and panhandling was permitted elsewhere in the city, therefore, ample alternative methods of communication existed.
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Title Annotation:Fort Lauderdale, FL
Author:Parnas, Susan M.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Nov 8, 1999
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