A permit for panhandling? N.J. town wants to register beggars

In one New Jersey township, asking a stranger to spare a dime is fine – so long as you can produce the proper paperwork.

A new law passed in Middle Township will soon require beggars to obtain permits in an effort to prevent aggressive panhandling and to limit the areas where they can ask for money.

The ordinance, which the township committee enacted Monday, threatens severe offenders with a fine of up to $1,000 and jail time.

Township police Chief Christopher Leusner told FoxNews.com he suggested the law after receiving more than a dozen complaints over the past year from residents and business owners. Although he said there haven’t been any reports of violence, a few residents complained that persistent beggars would follow supermarket shoppers to their cars, making them fear for their safety.

“We wanted to be proactive and do something about it before it got even worse, and ultimately, stop the behavior,” Leusner said Wednesday.

The free permit, which requires applicants to produce a photo ID and agree to a warrant check, prevents beggars from hanging out in public places, stopping vehicles or loitering near ATMs or bus stops.

Leusner stressed that the law won’t penalize those who simply ask for a handout – a right he said is protected under the First Amendment – just those who do so in an aggressive and threatening manner.

Police officers will use their discretion when it comes to slapping violators with a citation or letting them off with just a warning, he added.

Not everyone is convinced of the law’s effectiveness.

“It’s just another way to show government’s doing something, and I don’t think we need any more of that,” said Mark Matreale, the owner of Frank’s Famous Pizza. “Instead of worrying about a free permit so we can register these people, how about calling the cops and having someone arrested for touching or strong arming someone to hand over their money?”

Delores Nordone, 65, who works part-time at a gym in town, said the new law “doesn’t really make sense to me.”

“If someone came up to me and said, ‘I have a permit to ask you to give me money,’ I still don’t think I’d give them any,” she said.