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Ohio ACLU challenges Summit County's panhandling ordinance

Posted at 5:30 PM, Mar 29, 2019

FAIRLAWN, Ohio — In response to a Summit County ordinance criminalizing giving or receiving donations near roadways, the ACLU of Ohio filed an amended complaint in a case challenging it.

Joe Mead, cooperating attorney for the ACLU, said that the ordinance unconstitutionally burdens free speech, because it limits speech that asks for money and for help.

“As a result of our advocacy last summer Summit County repealed a 2013 anti-panhandling ordinance it had on the books. Shortly thereafter, the Summit County Council introduced a new law, disguised some of the language, but continued to criminalize panhandling anyway,” Mead said.

The ACLU is representing panhandler Leon Wilson, who now stands on the corner of Cleveland-Massillon Road in Fairlawn, blocks away from Bath Township where the ordinance is implemented.

“Every day I’m surviving — every day just to survive day by day. Not month by month," Wilson said, who is unable to work because of disability.

Bath Township is one jurisdiction where panhandlers are banned from soliciting and receiving donations from passing motorists.

Council members passed the ordinance in December, weeks before Christmas.

“It was a season of misery and pain and suffering. Financial hardship," Wilson said.

They said giving money to panhandlers on the street corners is dangerous, and could cause accidents on busy intersections where folks like Wilson stand. They said putting a stop to giving and receiving will eliminate that problem.

“Do we really want the government to spend its time telling people they aren’t allowed to ask for help?” asked Mead. “Summit County and Bath are specifically singling out and punishing panhandlers who ask for money, but do not punish any other type of speech.”

Mead said this ordinance criminalizes people who donate money to members of their community who are in need.

The ACLU of Ohio asks the Court to strike this ordinance down as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.