Local Panhandling Restrictions to Await U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

The Derry Town Council will step back and wait for a United States Supreme Court ruling before creating an ordinance against panhandling.

Chairman Mark Osborne brought the issue up in the Jan. 20 Town Council meeting. Osborne said he and the Council had had several e-mails and phone calls regarding panhandlers in Derry.

Currently, the town ordinances allow people to stand at intersections with “Homeless” or other signs, as long as they do not approach motorists.

Osborne said he has discussed the matter with Town Administrator Galen Stearns.

In 2013, Worcester, Mass., the second-largest city in New England, enacted two ordinances limiting where people could “panhandle” or ask for money. One of the ordinances forbids asking for money after dark or within 20 feet of bus stops, restaurants with outdoor seating, ATMs and several other locations. The other law restricts people from standing on traffic islands. The laws are enforced with a $50 fine or community service.

The challenge was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which argued that the laws present an unconstitutional burden on free speech. The suit was brought by the ACLU representing two homeless people and a local politician who contended that political activity was also hampered by the laws.

Boston requires panhandlers to stay at least 15 feet from banks and ATMs, and Lowell bans panhandling in its historic district.

As of last week, the case was not listed on the Supreme Court’s list of cases to be heard.

“Before the Council walks down that path, let’s see if the Supreme Court supports this,” Osborne said.