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Slidell police won't enforce a law requiring that panhandlers get a permit from the city until a federal judge rules on its constitutionality.

The American Civil Liberties Union and three Slidell residents filed a lawsuit last month challenging the ordinance on the basis that it violates free speech rights.

The city agreed to suspend enforcement during a status conference on the lawsuit Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk dismissed the plaintiffs' motion seeking a preliminary injunction after they agreed that it was moot in light of the city's agreement to suspend enforcement.

The lawsuit says requiring panhandlers to obtain a permit violates their free speech rights because it requires registration and prior permission from police to exercise only that specific form of speech, namely, solicitation of alms.

The city ordinance enacts a “content-based, viewpoint-discriminatory restriction on free speech,” the suit says, and also unlawfully limits the time, place or manner of free speech.

The law has never been enforced, according to Kevin Swann, public information officer for the Slidell Police Department. No arrests have been made and no permits have been issued, he said.

The ordinance, which the Slidell City Council adopted in July, requires panhandlers to apply for a permit, which is free, at least 48 hours before they begin asking for money. An application gives the city the right to conduct a full criminal background check, the law says.

Panhandlers must display their permit while soliciting for money, and the city can deny a permit to anyone who has violated a begging or panhandling law within the previous 12 months, the law says.

Violations are punishable by up to six months in a jail and a fine of up to $500.

Initially, the Police Department planned to have a 30-day grace period during which officers were to inform panhandlers of the new requirement. But that did not happen either, Swann said.

The lawsuit says one of the plaintiffs, Daniel Snyder, was approached by a Slidell police officer who used a loudspeaker to tell him he needed to get a permit or a job and threatened to jail him if he did not comply. The suit says the officer refused to provide his badge number and then drove away.

Marjorie Esman, director of the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU, said it was important to make sure everyone knows the city is not enforcing the law and panhandlers will not be intimidated into registering.

The city on Thursday filed an answer to the plaintiffs' complaint, denying that the ordinance infringes on free speech rights.

The ACLU first raised objections to the law in October, sending a letter to the city that called it unconstitutional.

In 2013, the ACLU objected to misdemeanor arrests that Slidell police had made under a city ordinance that bans aggressive begging.

Esman said she is not aware of any other local governments in Louisiana that have permit requirements for panhandlers. She said Slidell has shown an "animus'' toward panhandling.

This story was altered on Jan. 13, 2017 to change the word chapter to affiliate in describing the ACLU of Louisiana. 

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.