ACLU suit to proceed against city
Anti-panhandling wording still problematic for group
Although the city of Grand Junction amended its controversial panhandling ordinance earlier this month in an effort to sidestep costly litigation, the American Civil Liberties Union has not dropped its lawsuit opposing the measure.
Colorado ACLU director Mark Silverstein said that wording changes in Grand Junction’s amended ordinance were a step in the right direction, but the organization still is concerned with wording in the ordinance.
Specifically, Silverstein said, the ACLU does not agree that panhandling should not be allowed during nighttime hours. Grand Junction’s panhandling ordinance prohibits solicitation from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise. Further, the agency would like Grand Junction to state in its ordinance that it will not apply to people who are soliciting for donations in a passive manner.
“I think if the city would have gone a little bit further we would have been able to resolve this,” Silverstein said.
Grand Junction has not begun enforcing its ordinance. City officials drafted the ordinance to curb reports of aggressive panhandling.
Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver did not return a call Thursday for comment.
Changes approved by Grand Junction city councilors during an April 2 meeting include redacting wording in the ordinance that would have prohibited panhandlers from knowingly soliciting donations from at-risk individuals or near school grounds. Councilors also opted to remove wording about where people could panhandle, reducing a buffer zone of 100 feet to 20 feet around bus stops and automatic teller machines. Also, councilors deleted a section of the ordinance that banned solicitors from panhandling off state and federal highways. However panhandlers cannot step onto the roadway to accept donations.
The city of Grand Junction has until April 30 to respond to a motion by the ACLU for expediting discovery and an expedited briefing in the case. The ACLU said in its motion that it requested an expedited case because free speech could be stifled if the ordinance is too vague for residents to determine if they will be breaking the law. Also, the ACLU filed the motion for them to better understand the city’s “authoritative interpretation of the challenged ordinance,” according to the motion.