UPDATE: Harrisonburg repeals city panhandling ordinance

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- UPDATE: 7:30 p.m., 3/8/2016
Leaders in Harrisonburg choose to do away with the panhandling ordinance that's been in effect for about 13 years. The decision was made unanimously at Tuesday's city council meeting.

The city attorney had a hand in repealing the code. Similar city codes have been challenged around Virginia. Opponents say they're unconstitutional.

Going forward, city attorney, Chris Brown says, he plans to work with the Harrisonburg Police Department to create another panhandling ordinance that would pass the constitutional test.


Panhandling could soon be legal in the Friendly City.

Harrisonburg City Council is considering repealing its ordinance against panhandling. The panhandling ordinance passed in 2003, and makes it illegal for people to ask for rides or money.

Since then, similar codes around Virginia have been challenged. They've been called out for being unconstitutional and a violation of the first amendment.

Now, the city's attorney wants Harrisonburg to avoid that.

The question of whether these types of laws go too far started early last year, when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a similar ordinance in Henrico County. The code found to be a violation of the First Amendment freedom of speech.

The City of Waynesboro also followed down that path. Recently, its ordinance was challenged. This past week, the city decided to not contest the matter and repealed its ordinance.

Now, Harrisonburg's city attorney is asking council members to do the same.

The news is creating a mixed reaction from business owners in the city.

"I do believe that it is their right," said Abby Chick, owner of Blakemore's Flowers, "Does it cause a little bit of concern or worry? I mean, obviously, the comfort and safety of my employees and my customers are always of paramount concern."

However, it may not take long for a replacement ordinance.

City attorney, Chris Brown says, he plans to work with the Harrisonburg Police Department to create another panhandling ordinance that would pass the constitutional test.

Additionally, if this ordinance gets repealed, the action won't take own a separate ordinance prohibiting aggressive panhandling. It passed in 2014 and is different from its 2003 counterpart. It currently bans using intimidation or fear to get anything of value, like a ride or money.