Is Panhandling Illegal in Illinois?

Panhandling is currently legal in Illinois, with a ruling by a federal district court judge in Chicago in January 2021 striking down the law on the books that had prohibited panhandling in public streets and medians. That ruling came six years after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it clear that most laws targeting panhandlers are unconstitutional. Since that Supreme Court decision in Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, a number of panhandling ordinances across the nation have been repealed or struck down by courts.

The judge’s ruling in the Illinois case in January 2021 involved a lawsuit by two homeless men who were repeatedly fined and ticketed for panhandling at an intersection in Downers Grove, a suburb of Chicago. Claims and damages were paid to the two men upon the final resolution of the case. Many other municipalities and local governments in Illinois had anti-panhandling ordinances on the books as well and risked liability in federal court if not repealed. And in any case, those laws would not be enforceable due to the federal judge’s ruling.

The Illinois panhandling law stated that no person shall stand on a highway for the purpose of soliciting contributions from the occupant of any vehicle except when expressly permitted by municipal ordinance. The local government entity in which the solicitation takes place shall determine by ordinance where and when solicitations may take place based on the safety of the solicitors and the safety of motorists, the law continued. The law was struck down because it was ruled to be a violation of First Amendment Freedom of Speech rights.

HB 4441 introduced in 2022 by House Republicans and sponsored by Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford) sought to create the Illinois Safe Sidewalks and Roadways Act, which would make it unlawful for persons to aggressively panhandle. It prohibited panhandling after sunset and before sunrise, in any vehicle on the street, at any public transportation facility, or on private property. The legislation was based on model language from the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation to regulate panhandling and restore public order in a constitutional manner based on time, place, and manner restrictions. That bill was never called for a vote by supermajority Democratic lawmakers.

“This is really just intended to say, ‘alright, we’ve got to create some safety criteria’ and set reasonable limits in these situations,” said Rep. Joe Sosnowski. “We don’t want people getting injured as they engage with motorists in the intersections.”

“We need strong legislation for the pressing issue of aggressive panhandling that has created a hostile environment for our community members,” added Rep. Mike Coffey (R-Springfield). “It is crucial we take immediate action to ensure the safety of the families who continue to be manipulated and intimidated by aggressive demands. As legislators, our upmost priority should be to ensure families can travel without apprehension and fear.”