Belvidere repeals begging ordinance, says it’s an infringement on freedom of speech

City Alderman Clayton Stevens says several court cases claim that an ordinance banning people from begging for money is an infringement on their right to freedom of speech.
Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 10:06 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Begging for money on the side of the road is no longer illegal in the City of Belvidere, the council met Monday night to repeal an ordinance banning the act.

Council members say the decision to reverse the ordinance was strictly for legal reasons. They say this ordinance was ruled unconstitutional.

“A lot of these people make a lot more money begging than they do with a real job,” said Clayton Stevens, Alderman Ward 1.

Stevens has been an alderman in Belvidere for nearly 10 years. He says the city made the decision to repeal the ordinance after learning of court cases claiming banning people from begging for money is an infringement on their right to freedom of speech.

“The one thing they’re not supposed to do is be in the middle of the street, going in and out of cars,” Stevens said. “They’re not aggressively to be like knocking on your window and I thought they said if there’s a sidewalk they’re supposed to be on it.”

Stevens feels people walking through intersections could be dangerous.

“You know when they step out into traffic, like I said after 24-years on the Fire Department, I worry about these people getting a little aggressive and stepping out and getting hit by a car,” Stevens said.

Belvidere Mayor Clinton Morris says the council made the decision to reverse the ordinance for legal reasons.

“We certainly don’t want to get caught into a predicament where we have ordinance’s that we can’t enforce or that are illegal for us to enforce,” Morris said.

Morris feels the city will have to adapt to the change over time.

“It sets up all kinds of traffic questions, you know, with pedestrians and with vehicles so we certainly don’t want to have any of that,” Morris said.

All 10 council members voted to reverse the ordinance. Morris says his biggest concern is what he calls professional beggers that set up shop and patrol a certain area of town.

Morris says if beggers start to become a safety issue for pedestrians and drivers, the city will look into another solution to prevent any dangerous situations from happening.

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