Councilor John Florez’s proposed Panhandling Ordinance is inappropriate from both a legal and policy perspective, according to Steven Brown Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island.

Brown sent a letter regarding directed to Chris Behan, City Solicitor of Newport, this week regarding the proposed panhandling ordinance.  All seven members of Newport City Council received a copy of the letter at their home, City Manager Joe Nicholson and Police Chief Gary Silva also received a copy. The letter supports the ACLU’s opinion that we reported back in September regarding the introduction of the proposed panhandling ordinance.

The Proposed Ordinance

Councilor Florez plans to introduce a resolution at the October 26th Newport City Council meeting that would “request the city to investigate ways to address panhandling”. On his public Facebook Page, Councilor Florez stated on October 14th that he would be introducing the following 3 point resolution;

In the upcoming October 26th meeting I will be introducing a 3 point solution to address Newport’s panhandling issue. I would encourage anyone who feels strongly about this to reach out to other members of the council and express your support.

1. An ordinance written by Attorney and former President of the Rhode Island Bar Association, John Tarantino. The ordinance prohibits the exchange of anything between a person standing in a roadway and an occupied motor vehicle. WHY IT WILL WORK: an almost identical ordinance has now been upheld twice in the federal courts in Missouri. It’s “content neutral” and this will allow it to hold up constitutionally.

2. Signage placed at strategic points in the city discouraging people from giving to panhandlers will then allow more donations to organizations that provide services to our most needy individuals. WHY IT WILL WORK: anti-panhandling signage has been an effective marketing tool in numerous cities. Giving change to panhandlers is not a compassionate gesture, it perpetuates and reinforces a cycle. Giving change keeps people from seeking real long-term solutions.

3. The creation of a new work program that will be offered to those who are panhandling. This minimum wage program will involve beautification projects such as cleaning up litter on city streets: WHY IT WILL WORK: in Albuquerque NM an identical program was created. In one year 70,000 pounds of trash was picked up and some panhandlers were even able to transition to full time work.


The Letter From ACLU

Rhode Island’s ACLU sent the following letter to the aforementioned members of City Council and City administration, many received it on October 19th.

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Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).