The ordinance (see full text at bottom of post) was passed by the Township Committee on Monday night. “No person may ask, beg or solicit alms, including money and other things of value, in an aggressive manner in any public place,” reads the new rule, which defines aggressive begging as “Speaking to or following a person in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon the person or upon property upon the person’s immediate possession or would intimidate another person into giving money or goods.”
Since “any public place” is a very vague term, the ordinance also calls out specific locations where begging is banned. This includes a bus or train station or stop; within 100 feet of an ATM; begging from anyone in a motor vehicle on a public street.
The township goes on to ban certain acts that some beggars have used over the years to encourage the giving of cash, like blocking a free parking space until money is given, or washing car windows in the middle of traffic.
People who wish to beg in Middle Township can apply for a permit, which would be good for one year. However, the Township Police Chief says officers won’t be going after folks who are subtle about their panhandling.
“Someone walks by and says, ‘Can you spare a dollar?’ And they thank you, they keep on moving – that’s something that is protected by the First Amendment,” the chief explained to the Press of Atlantic City. “That’s not what we’re targeting here. These are people that are making people feel unsafe.”
Since he brings up the First Amendment, this is where we wonder if the ordinance A) will be challenged by anyone and B) if it will stand up to said challenge.
The city of Charlottesville, VA, recently passed a law forbidding panhandling, but a federal appeals panel ruled in March that begging is a form of protected speech and that a group of homeless men should be allowed to pursue their legal challenge against the ordinance.
Below is the full text of ORDINANCE NO. 1456-13 in Middle Township, NJ:
1. AGGRESSIVELY BEG
Speaking to or following a person in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily harm or the commission of a criminal act upon the person or upon property upon the person’s immediate possession or would intimidate another person into giving money or goods.
2. ASK, BEG OR SOLICIT ALMS
To ask for money or goods as a charity, whether by words bodily gestures, signs or other means.
3. PEDESTRIAN OR VEHICULAR INTERFERENCE
To walk, stand, sit, lie or place an object in such a manner as to block passage by another person or vehicle, or to require another person or a driver of a vehicle to take evasive action to avoid physical contact. Acts authorized pursuant to the City’s picketing and parade ordinances and regulations are exempt from this article.
4. PUBLIC PLACE
An area generally visible to public view and includes the Boardwalk, alleys, bridges, buildings, driveways, parking lots, parks, plazas, sidewalks and streets opened to the general public, including those that serve food or drink or provide entertainment, and the doorways and entrances to buildings, shops or dwellings and or grounds enclosing them.
Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:48-1, it shall be unlawful for any person to ask, beg or solicit alms upon the streets or elsewhere in the Township without first obtaining a permit from the Township.
Persons may apply in writing for permission to ask, beg or solicit alms, which such permission shall be issued on a case by case basis upon review of the Municipal Police Department. The permits shall be valid for a period not to exceed one year and are available at no charge or fee to the applicant. A photo identification is required with the application. A warrant check will be conducted before a permit is issued. At the time a permit is issued, the guidelines relating to the activity will be explained to the permittee.
(C) Prohibited acts.
No person may ask, beg or solicit alms, including money and other things of value, in an aggressive manner in any public place. Acts authorized as an exercise of one’s constitutional right to picket, the right to legally protest, any acts authorized by permit or parades issued pursuant to the Code of the Township of Middle shall not constitute obstruction of pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
1. A person is guilty of pedestrian interference if, in a public place, that person intentionally obstructs pedestrian or vehicular traffic or if the at person aggressively begs.
2. No person may ask, beg or solicit alms in any public transportation vehicle or at any bus or train station or stop.
3. No person may ask, beg or solicit alms within 100 feet of any automatic teller machine (ATM).
4. No person may ask, beg or solicit alms from any operator or occupant of a motor vehicle that is in traffic on a public street.
5. No person may ask, beg or solicit alms from any operator or occupant of a motor vehicle on a public street in exchange for blocking, occupying or reserving a public parking space or directing them operator or occupant to a public parking space.
6. No person may ask, beg or solicit alms in exchange for cleaning motor vehicle windows while the vehicle is in traffic on a public street
7. No person may ask, beg or solicit alms in exchange for protecting, watching, washing, cleaning, repairing or painting a motor vehicle or bicycle while it is parked on a public street.
8. No person may ask, beg or solicit alms on private property or residential property without permission from the owner or occupant.
9. No person may ask, beg or solicit alms at any time.
10. No person may ask, beg or solicit alms within 25 feet of the entrance or exit of any business establishment where the express intent of such asking, begging or soliciting of alms is to solicit directly from the employees or patrons of such business establishment.
Not for profit organizations seeking to solicit donations may be exempted from the provisions of this ordinance. Such exemptions must be granted first in written by the Municipal Police Department.
(E) PENALTIES AND FINES
a. First offense. A fine up to $250.00 plus up to 30 days jail time and up to 5 days of Court approved community service.
b. Second offense. A fine up to $500.00 plus up to 30 days jail time and up to 10 days of Court approved community service.
c. Third offense. A fine up to $1,000.00 plus up to 30 days jail time and up to 15 days of Court approved community service.
SECTION 2. All ordinances, or parts of ordinances, inconsistent herewith are hereby repealed to the extent of such inconsistency.
SECTION 3. This ordinance shall take effect after final adoption and publication as required by law.