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.


COMMENTS

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Should rewrite it to say get a job, get help, or get lost!  The ACLU can take a hike!

The alternative is to match funding for a building and staff to give the homeless a safe haven to go to for the care and help they need then part of the problem is solved.  Go to the shelter!

Is this ordinance a good idea? Maybe we should start at the other end of this law and work backwards. The whole thing just may be a waste of the City’s time.

Consider the difficulty and low potential for enforcing such a measure:  It only takes a moment for a panhandler to ask someone for money or other assistance. If the person being asked gets upset and calls 911, it will take a few moments for police to respond, during which the panhandlher just walks away. The police then have to find the panhandler. IF they do find the “perpetrator,” then absent any bodily harm or theft, there is no proof the encounter even occurred. It’s a “he said, she said” situation. There would be no evidence of assault, no theft has taken place, just words exchanged between two people, which is not illegal. So basically there is no evidence in the case, just the word of the complainant.  If the panhandler does get found and issued a fine, how will he/she pay it, considering they were panhandling for funds in the first place?

The whole pursuit makes little sense, and is starting to look like a pointless and expensive exercise. The time and taxpayer funds invested in creating and defending this ordinance from legal challenges would arguably be better spent assisting the local homeless shelters and food banks, or on approving something that will bring economic benefit to the area so more folks can find jobs.

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