Court ruling forces change in begging ordinance

A section of Aberdeen’s ordinance on aggressive begging is in the process of being repealed by the City Council in a housekeeping measure to conform with a ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that says “begging is a protected form of speech.”

The repeal, which cleared a first reading on Wednesday is “strictly a (U.S.) constitutional housekeeping measure” according to Police Chief Bob Torgerson. A second reading brings a public hearing, followed by final passage on third reading, which can be done at the same time through procedural maneuvers.

City Attorney Eric Nelson said he couldn’t recall ever using the “aggressive begging ordinance” to prosecute anyone and said that other ordinances already on the books for “disorderly conduct” or “placing a person in fear or apprehension by threat” will cover situations in which a panhandler is menacing to someone. These statutes don’t contain the free speech issues addressed by the appeals court.