City to ACLU: Drop panhandling suit

Grand Junction insists its ordinance against panhandling is constitutional and narrowly defined, so a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union should be dropped.

Grand Junction filed its latest response Thursday in what has become back-and-forth litigation between the two entities.

In an effort to save time and money, the city of Grand Junction requested that the lawsuit the ACLU lodged over its panhandling ordinance should just go away.

The ACLU disagreed.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit, still isn’t pleased with the wording in the ordinance, even after city councilors approved of softer language in April.

As of mid-June, Grand Junction’s insurance company, Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, has paid out $13,331 to attorneys at Berg, Hill, Greenleaf, Ruscitti LLP, who are assisting with the lawsuit, said Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver.

In its latest motion, Grand Junction argues that the lawsuit does not limit freedom of speech and should not be legally challenged because a person must act “both with knowledge that his conduct is proscribed and without the consent of the person solicited. Next the person must take some action to approach, accost or stop another person in one of the proscribed times, places or manners.”

“The Plaintiff’s interpretation of the Ordinance seems to suggest that each provision should be read in isolation from every other provision, rather than as a unified whole, and when possible, to avoid Constitutional difficulties,” the filing states. “Therefore, the Court should dismiss the Plaintiff’s and Intervenors’ Complaints in their entirety with prejudice.”

The panhandling ordinance was devised earlier this year after some Main Street business owners reported they and their customers were experiencing an uptick in aggressive panhandling tactics.

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

In April, the City Council amended the ordinance, deleting the section that bans solicitors from panhandling along state and federal highways. Panhandlers still cannot 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.

The ordinance has never been enforced as it endures challenges through litigation, city officials said.

In a more 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.


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