Jerry Summers: Panhandling No. 2

  • Thursday, September 21, 2023
  • Jerry Summers

In a previous article we discussed the decision of a federal judge in the “Cradle of the Confederacy” (Alabama) declaring a panhandling prohibition law as being unconstitutional.

Whether the judge's ruling will be appealed is still undetermined but with the increasing number of new residents arriving in the Choo Choo City who are in need of further financial support it is time to address the status of similar statutes in the Volunteer State and Chattanooga.

The Tennessee legislature in 1989 enacted TCA 39-17-313 concerning Aggressive Panhandling that carried a penalty of 30 days in the jail or workhouse for a first offense (class C misdemeanor) or up to six months incarceration for a second offense (class B misdemeanor). However, the statute was repealed in 1990 in Acts 1990, chap.984,¶ .

The conflict between state statutes, municipal ordinances and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution under Freedom of Speech has been addressed by many courts. Memphis, Knoxville, etc. have enacted statutes regulating panhandling.

In Chattanooga, the City Council and prior administration on April 10, 2018 adopted Ordinance 13295 that distinguished between “passive panhandling” (legal?) versus “aggressive panhandling” (illegal?) activities in the municipality under Section 25-39 of the Chattanooga City Code Part II Chapter 25. Article I was revised and adopted in an effort to balance the interests of public safety and freedom of speech.

To date there have been relatively few (if any) attempted prosecutions under the ordinance. However, with the steady influx of new residents and immigrants eager to enjoy the benefits of the 2,439 non-profit charitable organizations such as the former Chattanooga Community Kitchen (Chatt Foundation), and other compassionate local charities and churches, it is anticipated that the issue of any violations of the ordinance by uninformed new members of our locale will possibly increase.

However, the permanent appointment of an experienced non-political City Attorney should effectively monitor the panhandling ordinance to avoid any litigation that might result in any expenditure of taxpayer money in class action cases brought by civil rights organizations or individuals.

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You can reach Jerry Summers at

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