The city wants panhandlers to get a license to beg, but a kink in Virginia law has the city begging the General Assembly for a license to legislate.
City Councilman Bruce Tyler introduced an ordinance in September that, if passed, would require people to get a $25 license from the Richmond Police before they could legally panhandle. The license would have the person's photo and require him or her to stand on a specific corner.
Since the fall, Richmond City Attorney Norman Sales informed Tyler that in order for council to pass such an ordinance, it must receive permission from the state. Former City Council President and Delegate-elect Manoli Loupassi has agreed to carry the bill for the city in the upcoming General Assembly session. Tyler won the council seat Loupassi vacated when he stepped down in 2006.
Even if the state allows Richmond to legislate on panhandling, the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has constitutional concerns, Executive Director Kent Willis says.
"The big hole in this is I have a First Amendment right to stand on a sidewalk and say 'Please give me money,'" Willis says. "If they follow the sequence that's being discussed here, they are still in violation of the free speech clause of the Constitution and vulnerable to legal action against them."
Loupassi's bill would grant only City Council permission to put restrictions on activities along sidewalks, medians and highways. It would be up to council to craft and pass specific legislation.