West Jeff considers change to loitering laws

(Posted Oct. 10, 2018)

By Sandi Latimer, Staff Writer

West Jefferson village council is considering repealing a law that deems a person guilty of loitering if he or she remains in a public place for the purpose of begging for money.

Council held a first reading on the proposal on Oct. 1. No action was taken. The ordinance will be up for a second reading and a possible vote at council’s Oct. 15 meeting.

The proposed change comes after the village received a letter in August from the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The letter cites Supreme Court decisions that say the First Amendment protects an individual’s right to beg.

“The Supreme Court has consistently and repeatedly held that requests for monetary contributions are speech that deserve the highest level of protection under the First Amendment,” the ACLU-Ohio wrote.

The organization pointed to a decision from the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that covers Ohio in which it unanimously struck down a Michigan law, concluding “the prohibition on begging violated the Constitution because it simply bans an entire category of activity that the First Amendment protects.”

In its letter, the ACLU-Ohio also wrote, “Harassing, ticketing and/or arresting people who ask for help in a time of need is inhumane and counterproductive. Such laws are costly to enforce and only exacerbate problems associated with homelessness and poverty. Numerous communities have created alternatives that are more effective and leave those involved–homeless and non-homeless residents, businesses, city agencies, and elected officials–happier in the long run.”

In other business, council voted to allow Debbie DiLeo, former finance director, to serve as clerk of council on an interim basis.  Clerk Jack Herrel is off due to illness.

Two public hearings are on council’s agenda next month. On Nov. 5, council will consider recommendations from the Planning and Zoning Commission regarding the Sky Ranch and Project Maple properties. The second hearing will be Nov. 19 and concerns a petition to vacate an alley from West Main Street to West Pearl Street.

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