Akron repeals anti-panhandling law after lawsuit

Posted at 8:55 PM, May 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-10 20:55:45-04

On Monday night, Akron City Council voted unanimously to repeal the city’s anti-panhandling ordinance after a lawsuit was brought up by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

The law targeted panhandling by requiring people to register with the city and was restricted to certain hours and locations.

Last week, the ACLU's lawsuit challenged the law for singling out particular types of speech for special restrictions.

“The repeal of this ordinance is a victory for the First Amendment and for some of Akron’s most vulnerable people,” said Joe Mead, volunteer attorney with the ACLU of Ohio. “This decision by Akron City Council should send a message to every city in Ohio that restricting free speech is not an acceptable approach to solving poverty.”

In January, the ACLU sent a letter to Akron officials telling them the city’s panhandling ordinance ran against court decisions upholding panhandling as protected speech. After months of hearing nothing from the city, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court.

“Criminalizing people for being poor does nothing to alleviate the struggles of poverty, especially when these measures violate people’s fundamental right to express themselves,” Mead said. “Freedom of speech means that government lacks the power to silence speech simply because people would rather not hear the message.”

After repealing the ordinance, officials said they remain committed to addressing issues of poverty and homelessness in the city.

“We hope that Akron will continue pursuing solutions to poverty in the city, while upholding the constitutional rights of its people,” Mead added. “Other cities should take this opportunity to review their own policies and not wait for legal challenges forcing them to do the right thing.”

The Civil Litigation Clinic at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law assisted with the case.