_A previous version of this story was incorrectly headlined “Carrboro debates constitutionality of panhandling.” The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error. _
Local officials are torn between preserving public safety and protecting First Amendment rights.
The Carrboro Board of Aldermen has unanimously supported repealing the town’s anti-lingering ordinance, which prohibits day laborers from standing at the corner of Jones Ferry Road and Davie Road, except between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m.
The ordinance’s constitutionality was called into question at a Sept. 13 board meeting.
And like Carrboro, Chapel Hill politicians and candidates must heed First Amendment rights — in this case, as they address panhandling.
First Amendment and day laborers
The ordinance was enacted in 2007 after residents complained about day laborers urinating, littering and harassing people at the corner, where many Latino workers wait to be picked up for work every day.
“This kind of ordinance is very absurd, especially in a place like Carrboro, which prides itself on adhering to the Constitution,” said Christopher Brook, staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
He said the coalition sent a letter to the Board of Aldermen this summer stating its belief that the ordinance violates the right to assemble. The letter sparked the discussion on repealing the ordinance.
Brook said he worries about the precedent the rule could set.
“This ordinance could be used as an example and a model to make things very difficult for the day laborer population,” Brook said.
But Town Attorney Michael Brough said he does not believe it is unconstitutional.
“The concern that we’re restricting constitutional rights is hard to sustain,” he said. “The ordinance does not apply to every square foot of every street.”
David Ardia, a UNC School of Law assistant professor, said the day laborer issue makes this First Amendment question controversial. But he said he sees the debate as productive for Carrboro.
“Carrboro will face great difficulty in proving constitutionality because of the hurdles of speech and assembly, but that’s how it should be.”
Chapel Hill’s panhandling
Candidates for Chapel Hill’s Town Council elections have suggested creating panhandling-free downtown areas.
But Sgt. Allison Finch of the Chapel Hill police said panhandling occurs in public space and is constitutionally protected.
“Basically the town says that people have the right to panhandle as part of their First Amendment right to free speech,” she said in August.
Candidate Lee Storrow said the policies could be problematic.
“They are public spaces that every person has a right to be at,” he said.
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