The ACLU of Arkansas today condemned the final passage of House Bill 1756, calling the bill an unconstitutional attack on free speech that would criminalize Arkansans asking for help after dark. The bill now goes to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk.
“This bill is as cruel as it is unconstitutional,” said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar. “There are a thousand reasons why someone could find themselves needing to ask a stranger for help at night. Just months after a similar ban was struck down by the courts, it’s troubling that the legislature would again attempt to criminalize Arkansans who have done nothing wrong but ask for help. The First Amendment does not expire at sundown. We urge Gov. Hutchinson to veto this mean-spirited and unconstitutional bill.”
House Bill 1756 would expand the criteria for an offense to be considered loitering, including establishing a rebuttable presumption that a request made for assistance constitutes loitering if it occurs after sunset or before sunrise. Last year, the ACLU of Arkansas went to court to challenge a similar begging ban and won. The federal court agreed that the law unlawfully criminalized protected free speech and struck it down.
“Whether they’ve got a flat tire or are down on their luck, people have a right to ask for help, no matter what time it is,” said Sklar. “The ACLU has defeated these kinds of unconstitutional begging bans in court before and we won’t hesitate to do so again.”