Montgomery settles lawsuit over panhandling ordinance

Montgomery settles lawsuit over panhandling ordinance
The city of Montgomery has settled a lawsuit regarding its repealed panhandling ordinance. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The city of Montgomery has settled a lawsuit regarding its repealed panhandling ordinance.

The city will immediately stop arresting or ticketing people who panhandle. Also, the city will drop any outstanding charges regarding panhandling and waive any outstanding fines and costs owed.

Also, the Southern Poverty Law Center says the city will give them $10,000 “to be used for charitable purposes on behalf of people experiencing homelessness.” SPLC says they intend to donate that money to Montgomery Pride United to provide emergency financial assistance to people experiencing homelessness.

The settlement serves as a resolution to a lawsuit filed in February by SPLC, ACLU of Alabama, and the National Homelessness Law Center on behalf of people who panhandle. The organizations challenged the enforcement of two state statutes that make it unlawful for anyone to “beg” or “solicit” and subject those who do to fines or jail.

In that lawsuit, the plaintiffs also sued Montgomery County and the state of Alabama for enforcement of the same statutes. That litigation is still pending.

The ordinance was passed by the City Council in July 2019. First-time offenders could face jail time unless a judge ruled otherwise. More offenses could have meant more time in custody.

The City Council repealed the ordinance last December.

“The city of Montgomery is doing the right thing by ending its enforcement of Alabama’s inhumane and unconstitutional laws that criminalize homelessness and poverty,” said SPLC staff attorney Ellen Degnan. “Housing, not handcuffs, is the way to end homelessness. While the terms of this settlement – if correctly implemented – will help people who panhandle within the city limits of Montgomery, there are still thousands of Alabamians who remain at risk of being jailed or ticketed for simply asking for help.”

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed issued the following statement:

“From day-one in office, we have championed justice and equity for everyone in Montgomery. We supported the repeal of an ordinance that could unfairly penalize members of Montgomery’s homeless population. We’re actively working to make sure our administration provides better service and assistance to our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. We look forward to unveiling new support programs in the future.”

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