Council begs off ordinance
City to make major changes to its ban on panhandling
Instead of taking a chance on racking up costly legal fees and delaying enforcement even further, Grand Junction city councilors opted Wednesday to make some changes to the wording of their legally challenged panhandling ordinance.
City councilors unanimously approved the removal of language in the ordinance that would prohibit solicitors from knowingly panhandling from at-risk individuals and near school grounds. Also, councilors approved of changing wording about where people could panhandle, reducing a buffer zone of 100 feet to 20 feet around bus stops and automatic teller machines.
A final change to the ordinance includes deleting a section that bans solicitors from panhandling off state and federal highways. However, panhandlers still could not step into the roadway to accept donations, according to the amended ordinance.
Further discussion will happen before a decision is made about when to begin enforcement of the newly worded ordinance.
Grand Junction is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union on the basis that the previous wording in their aggressive panhandling ordinance is too broad, and could infringe on people’s constitutional rights to free speech by panhandling in a peaceful manner.
City councilors on Feb. 19 unanimously approved an ordinance against what they described as aggressive panhandling, limiting the times of day and areas and the manners in which people could panhandle. The ordinance was passed in response to an increase of reports of aggressive panhandling in the city’s core.
The ordinance, which was slated to go into effect March 23, has never been enforced on the advice of Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver.
A federal judge agreed with a portion of the ACLU’s argument and placed a temporary restraining order on one section of the ordinance — that Grand Junction should not be able to ban solicitors from panhandling on state and federal highways.
Councilor Barbara Traylor-Smith said she would have liked to have kept the original wording in the ordinance because she believed it offered residents an increased level of public safety.
“It’s important to get it into action,” she said. “We want citizens to enjoy the community and safely move about the community and that’s what this ordinance does.”