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VERIFY: No, signs to prosecute panhandlers are not a violation of First Amendment rights

Chief John Wagner says those signs have been up for about a year and those arrested could face a misdemeanor.

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Panhandling, by definition, is "begging," but courts have said for years that panhandling is free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Signs around Warner Robins discourage the act in some areas and warns panhandlers could be prosecuted.

High traffic areas around the international city are prime panhandling locations but the signs are warning people who are looking for a handout.

"So with those persons that are standing at the corner of the roadway with their signs asking for money, we've asked them to move along,” Warner Robins Police Chief John Wagner said. 

Panhandling is legal in Georgia and courts say it’s free speech protected by the First Amendment.

So do those signs violate a panhandlers rights? Not according to the city ordinance.

The Warner Robins ordinance says "passive panhandling, begging, charitable or political solicitation, should be treated as speech protected under the first amendment” unless the person begging is causing other problems.

"Again, we definitely know that you do have that first amendment right but there are specifically laws in the books that says you can’t do it aggressively and there are specific areas that you can’t do it in in the city," Wagner explained.

Aggressive panhandling includes forcefully touching or accosting someone and using foul language.

If you're wondering where those prohibited areas are, bright orange signs will tell you.

"It’s in our ordinance. It says specifically along high speed roadways even and its specific to Watson Boulevard, Houston Lake Road, Russell Parkway and Moody Road," he explained.

Police chief John Wagner say they posted signs in places like shopping centers where private owners have the city to uphold ordinances.

"The businesses are saying, 'We don't want them, we don't want the liability of that going on,' and it's hurting some of their business as well, so we tell the persons that they need to move along. If they continue coming back and it’s the same ones, then can make cases against them," he said. 

So, no, the city signs are not violating panhandlers' First Amendment rights.

Chief Wagner says those signs have been up for about a year and those arrested could face a misdemeanor. We counted at least a dozen along Watson Boulevard. He also says property owners with panhandling concerns can contact the city about their option for signage.

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