LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Two panhandlers said Tuesday they’re afraid they’ll be prosecuted for asking for money under a rewrite of Arkansas’ anti-loitering law, but attorneys for the state say the new measure still allows begging in many forms.
A federal judge heard arguments and testimony over a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union over the law. The ACLU of Arkansas has asked U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson to halt the law, which expands the definition of loitering to include someone asking for anything as charity or a gift in a harassing or threatening manner in a way that’s likely to cause alarm to the other person or creates a traffic hazard.
Wilson last year struck down a section of the state’s loitering law that prohibited begging for money, food or other charity. The ACLU has argued the new law has the exact same effect as the previous statute and would infringe on constitutionally protected rights.
Flynn Dilbeck, one of two panhandlers suing the state over the new law, said he had previously panhandled in northwest Arkansas to help support his ill daughter but moved to Tennessee after the new measure took effect out of fear he would be cited or prosecuted.
Dillbeck said without the measure, “I would have more freedom to hold my sign and not worry about whether a police officer drives up.”
Michael Rodgers, the other plaintiff in the case, said he still panhandles in Garland County but not Hot Springs out of fear that he would be cited under the new law. Rodgers, an Army veteran, said he suffers from a back injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“If a man put a gun to my head, I’d still have to beg to make a living,” Rodgers said.
Attorneys for the state argue Arkansas has a compelling interest in preventing begging that could create traffic hazards and threaten people, and said they believe the measure crafted after Wilson’s previous ruling is narrow enough to meet that goal.
“The revised statute does not ban begging in all places, all times, all manners, as the court found problematic with the old statute,” Assistant Attorney General Delena Hurst said.
The ACLU, however, argued the wording of the measure is vague is it depends on whether someone perceives the panhandling as alarming.
“What makes one person feel alarmed in a situation won’t make another person feel alarmed,” Katherine Stephens, an attorney for the group, said.
Wilson did not rule at the end of Tuesday’s hearing on the ACLU’s bid to halt the law.
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