Outlawing Despair

Plenty of jurisdictions over the years have sought to restrict the time, place and manner for begging–or if you will, panhandling–in accordance with First Amendment standards.

But the Gret Stet of Looziana is on the brink of being the first to simply outlaw begging altogether.

Yes, a bill that would expose beggars and even hitchhikers to up to six months in the hoosegow was passed unanimously and without debate in the Louisiana House.

Its chief sponsor, Rep. Austin Badon, a Democrat (!) from New Orleans (!), hasn’t been the most convincing spokesman for his measure. In one interview, he summarily dismissed all begging as a “racket.” In another, he claimed the bill was really aimed at cracking down on prostitutes who had been driven into New Orleans by tougher prostitution laws elsewhere (why not just emulate those laws instead of banning all solicitations?).

It’s unclear whether the Louisiana Senate will be shamed into burying or at least modifying this bill (I sure wouldn’t count on the shameless governor, Bobby Jindal, to do the right thing). It’s extremely unlikely to survive judicial review, so somebody needs to spare the taxpayers of the Gret Stet the expense of defending this indefensible law.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.