Since its publication, I've come across a number of similar cases around the country -- in Florida, the Midwest, in Great Britain. Lakewood is not the only town with restrictive ordinances in the state, of course, which is why the announcement today that the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness and the city of New Brunswick have reached a settlement on a case involving city laws banning panhandling and the soliciting of food.
A press release from the city said it would repeal the ordinances "because there are legitimate concerns regarding (their) constitutionality" and that they would stop enforcing them immediately.
The City’s law department plans to introduce two new ordinances that will address panhandling and the regulation of solicitation of donations. Those new ordinances will be introduced at a future City Council meeting and must be done so within 90 days, as per the terms of the agreement. The two challenged ordinances will be repealed.The coalition, which was represented by the ACLU, won an injunction against the city in December after John Fleming, "a homeless man who was cited four times by the local police in the last two months" for panhandling on city streets by holding a sign asking for aid.
At issue is Fleming's -- and others' -- speech rights. Jeanne LoCicero, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, told me today that begging or soliciting for assistance is no different than other sidewalk solicitations.
"This is about a fundamental right to free expression," she said.
Deb Ellis, executive director of the coalition, told me a few minutes ago that she is hopeful that this settlement can send a signal that restrictions like this, which target the homeless, are not acceptable.
I should have more on the settlement tomorrow or later this week.
Send me an e-mail.