ACLU of Wisconsin challenges Altoona’s anti-panhandling laws

Altoona (WQOW) – The American Civil Liberties Union is going after the City of Altoona for its panhandling laws.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is demanding eight Wisconsin municipalities repeal panhandling bans.

Karyn Rotker, Senior Staff Attorney for the Wisconsin ACLU, said these bans generally prohibit poor people from asking for money in certain locations or under certain conditions.

“The Federal Court of Appeals at the 7th circuit that deals with charges from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana has made clear that panhandling or asking for money is a form of speech,” Rotker said. “Therefore, it is protected under the First Amendment.”

Altoona City Administrator Mike Golat said the city’s panhandling law recognizes a personal constitutional right to panhandle but sets certain restrictions to keep people safe.

“We do provide people the opportunity to panhandle in the city of Altoona as long as it’s done under conditions that do not compromise public health, safety and welfare, and isn’t aggressively done so as to make people feel harassed or in danger,” said Golat.

The city’s laws do not allow panhandling at bus stops, intersections, on public sidewalks while sitting or reclining, in public transportation vehicles or public transportation facilities, in a vehicle which is parked or stopped in places open to the public, in a sidewalk café, within 20 feet of an ATM or financial institution, and lastly, on private property without expressed permission.

In all, Golat said it is legal to panhandle while walking or standing on a sidewalk.

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