Although the Slidell City Council voted in July to require beggars and panhandlers to apply for a free, one-year permit in order to ask for money in public spaces such as streets and sidewalks, the Slidell Police Department has not yet begun enforcing the requirement.
However, that is expected to change soon, which could prompt a legal challenge to the law's constitutionality.
The council adopted minor revisions to the ordinance Tuesday night.
Once Mayor Freddy Drennan, who is out of town, signs the amended version, Assistant Police Chief Kevin Swann said, a 30-day grace period will go into effect, during which police officers will inform panhandlers and beggars of the requirement and help them comply with it, such as by providing them a ride to police headquarters to fill out the application.
The law requires applicants to provide a photo ID and to apply at least 48 hours before the first day they plan to beg.
City Council members voted on the amendments, which refine some of the law's language, without discussion Tuesday. No one in the audience commented on the law.
However, the ACLU of Louisiana is taking issue with the new requirement. Executive Director Marjorie Esman wrote a letter to the City Council this month saying that the ordinance violates the First Amendment's protection of free speech.
Begging is protected free speech, Esman said in the letter, and the new requirement is an unlawful content-based restriction on protected speech.
She quoted from a court ruling that called it "offensive" to require someone to inform the government ahead of time of their intention to exercise their rights and also to obtain a permit to do so.
City Attorney Bryan Haggerty did not specifically mention Esman's letter Tuesday. But he did address the question of constitutionality, telling the City Council that Slidell is not attempting to infringe on anyone's rights.
Some similar laws adopted by other jurisdictions have been overturned, he said, but Slidell's is carefully crafted. The intention is to promote the safety and well-being of Slidell residents and of the beggars and panhandlers themselves, he said.
Among other things, the law specifies that panhandlers can't go into the street to ask for money.
Under the law, beggars must fill out an application for a permit, which they must then display on their person while begging. Signing the permit application "authorizes the city to conduct a complete criminal background check," the application says.
Haggerty told the City Council that catching people who are wanted on criminal charges is not the city's goal, however.
The ACLU has objected to Slidell laws regarding panhandling in the past, taking issue in 2013 with misdemeanor arrests that Slidell police made under a city ordinance that bans aggressive begging.
Swann said aggressive begging includes actions such as beating on vehicle windows, cursing at motorists, throwing liquid at vehicles or spitting on them. Violations of that law are misdemeanors.
The new law allows the city to deny a begging permit to anyone who has been convicted of violating a begging or panhandling law within 12 months of the application date.
Violations of the law would also be misdemeanors, with punishment of up to six months in a jail and a fine of up to $500.