ACLU won’t budge in panhandling fight

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado is sticking with its lawsuit against Grand Junction over its panhandling ordinance, even though the city has softened the ban.

The ordinance against what the city was labeling aggressive panhandling — the Grand Junction City Council unanimously approved it in February before revising it in April — has never been put into effect because of the lawsuit by the ACLU, according to the Grand Junction Police Department.

In a recent court motion, Grand Junction requested that the ACLU drop the lawsuit because some of the wording in the ordinance has been changed and the city did not want to incur costly fees over it in a protracted legal battle.

In a response, the ACLU said it still isn’t pleased with the wording of Grand Junction’s ordinance, disagrees with some main tenets of the ban, and would not drop its complaint.

“Unfortunately, the City failed to repeal several specific restrictions that plainly violate the Constitution, including, for instance, the prohibitions of nighttime panhandling anywhere in the City and panhandling near a bus stop,” ACLU’s motion states. “The ordinance restricts solicitation for money or employment, but it does not restrict solicitation for votes, for signatures on petitions, for religious conversion, or for moral support for a cause. Thus, on its face, the ordinance bans solicitation on certain topics but not others and, in that sense, is the archetypal example of a content-based restriction on speech.”

After Grand Junction passed the ordinance in February, a federal judge temporarily blocked the city from enforcing a portion of the ban just days before it was slated to go into effect.

The judge ruled that Grand Junction should not be able to ban solicitors from panhandling along state and federal highways.

In April, the City Council amended the ordinance, deleting the section that bans solicitors from panhandling along state and federal highways. They still could not step into the roadway to accept donations.

The City Council also removed language that would prohibit solicitors from knowingly approaching at-risk individuals or panhandling near school grounds.

Also, the council approved a change in wording about where people could panhandle, reducing a buffer zone of 100 feet to 20 feet around bus stops and automatic teller machines.


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