ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Panhandling is defined as begging strangers for money in public places. But is it legal in Illinois?

Panhandling is on the rise in Illinois because a federal district court judge struck down a law that prohibited it.

For years a state law had prohibited the practice.

A federal district court in Chicago found the law unconstitutional in January 2021, saying asking for money is a protected act under the First Amendment.

A pair of homeless men, Michael Dumiak and Christopher Simmons sued the city of Downer’s Grove after police gave them tickets for soliciting money.

The ruling gave way to an explosion in panhandling in major cities across the state.

In Rockford, in July 2021, city officials claimed the majority of panhandlers have a place to live and are using panhandling as a way to supplement their incomes.

The City placed signs advising against giving money to panhandlers at major intersections which read: “Panhandling is not safe. Contribute to the solution – give to local charities.”

Aldermen said they were worried about the risk for panhandlers, as well as drivers, as people walk into the streets, between cars at stop lights, and on medians.

It has reportedly been a concern for a while, and city leaders said they worried that some panhandlers could become aggressive, or could cause injuries by creating car accidents.

The Rockford Rescue Mission has said that, in lieu of money, citizens should give panhandlers a referral card for Rescue Mission services if they’re approached in their cars by a panhandler.