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Wilmington City Council votes to repeal panhandling restrictions

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Wilmington's Market Street

A majority of Wilmington City Council voted to strike portions of city code that prohibit panhandling when the sun is down, at bus stops, to people in vehicles, and in other situations and manners.

The ordinancethat passed Thursday also eliminates the $500 fine for violations of these rules.


Councilman Chris Johnson sponsored the ordinance. He calls it “common sense” criminal justice reform that should help everyone feel welcome in the city.  

“If someone is not threatening or harassing or aggressive, they will be allowed to be a part of our city,” he said. Johnson adds this sentiment is important as the city experiences new development. “With the changes to the Rodney bus hub, with the changes that we see coming, we have to do this.”

Johnson also notes panhandling is protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

“There is a First Amendment right, and the restrictions cannot be overly burdensome,” he said. “There were challenges— now, it depends on which circuit court you look at— but we sided on the side that said, you know what, the time, place and manner restriction on panhandling was unreasonable. You had to get a permit, it was only certain times you could do it. It really was just too restrictive.”

Councilwoman Linda Gray opposed the move to strike the restrictions. “I don’t think it makes for the appearance of a safe city,” she said. “I don’t have a problem with people sitting with their animals or dogs or things like that. But when you’re panhandling, you’re approaching people and asking. And it’s startling, and people who aren’t used to that culture are maybe threatened, and that prevents them from having a comfortable experience in the city.”

Rosamaria Tassone-DiNardo of the City of Wilmington’s Law Department clarified at a committee meeting last month that the ordinance does not remove prohibitions on harassment. 

“What the ordinance now does is basically removes all of those restrictions with regard to time, place or manner, and it just leaves in its place the current laws that focus on the aggressive behavior that is unlawful,” she said. “In other words, an individual who is acting in a disorderly manner, an individual who is harassing somebody, someone who is trespassing. So that individual would be charged under those particular laws, not necessarily under any of these.”

The ordinance also lowers fines for loitering, but leaves prohibitions for loitering in place. 


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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