Arizona is going to be without a legally enforceable begging law for perhaps another year.
Gov. Jan Brewer on Thursday vetoed a measure designed to recraft a law that a federal court last year declared unconstitutional. That was based on the finding by the judge that the century-old law was overly broad and an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights.
Brewer, in her veto message, did not dispute finding by U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake, but the governor said she's not convinced the fix crafted by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is the answer.
“It is unclear what statewide concern this legislation intends to address,” the governor wrote. And she said if local governments see a need to regulate begging they remain free to adopt their own ordinances.
The old state law said those who approach people to seek a handout are guilty of the crime of loitering. But the issue did not come into focus until the city of Flagstaff used that law and its local version to try to clear the downtown business district of beggars and other homeless people.
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law. They argued it is unconstitutional to make it a crime to ask people for money when the law had no similar penalties for things like politicians seeking support on the same public streets.
Attorney General Tom Horne did not put up a fight. He said the ACLU is correct that federal courts have ruled that simply standing around and peacefully asking for money, absent some other illegal act, is protected by the First Amendment right of free speech. And that, Horne said, makes it unlawful to charge anyone with begging.
In October, Wake signed an order which “perpetually enjoined and restrained” state and local police from enforcing the state's anti-begging law. Wake even required Horne to notify all law enforcement agencies of his order.
The fix crafted by Kavanagh was designed to narrow the scope of the now-voided law by criminalizing what he called “aggressive solicitation.”
HB 2024 would have prohibited begging within 15 feet of any bank entrance or automated teller machine. Also banned would have been begging on public buses or trolley or within 10 feet of any bus stop.
It also would have outlawed continuing to beg after the other person has said they want the request to stop, or if the person doing to soliciting intentionally made physical contact or acted in a way to intimidate.