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Eye On Boise

Mon., Nov. 4, 2013, 4:33 p.m.

Lawsuit targets Boise’s new anti-panhandling ordinance

Boise's new ordinance against aggressive panhandling doesn't take effect until January, but today it was challenged in federal court on grounds it violates the First Amendment rights to free speech and expression and that it places an unfair burden on people struggling to make ends meet, AP reporter Todd Dvorak reports. The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court by the Idaho ACLU and two Boise homeless men, a 58-year-old street musician who suffers from psoriatic arthritis, and a 38-year-old who said he lives in a truck and seeks handouts to buy gasoline so he can commute from one temporary job to another; click below for Dvorak's full report. The City Council approved the ordinance in September with support of downtown merchants.

ACLU sues Boise over new panhandling rules
TODD DVORAK, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho and two homeless men are taking aim at the City of Boise's new rules intended to crack down on aggressive panhandling in and around public places in downtown area.

The group on Monday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the city's anti-solicitation ordinance on grounds it violates the First Amendment right to free speech and expression and that it places an unfair burden on families, veterans and disabled citizens struggling to make ends meet.

It's also the latest legal attack mounted by the ACLU and other groups against a wave of new laws adopted in recent years by states or cities across the country in an effort to limit or ban begging by the homeless, poor and unemployed.

Plaintiffs in the case also include Larry Shanks, a 58-year-old street musician diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, and Troy Minton, 38, who said he lives in a truck and seeks handouts to buy gasoline so he can commute from one temporary job to another.

"I don't think it's right for (City of Boise) to be telling us what we can and what we can't do. We're all grown-ups here," Minton said during a press conference in front of city hall Monday.

The Boise City Council adopted the new ordinance in September with support of the city's downtown merchants, who lobbied that unregulated and overzealous panhandling creates negative perceptions of the city and is bad for business.

Slated to go into effect in January, the law bans panhandlers from seeking handouts while someone is crossing a roadway, within 20 feet of a sidewalk cafe or ATM, on city busses or in cases when a potential donor feels harassed or intimidated.

Boise Spokesman Adam Park said the city is prepared to defend that legality of its new rules.

"The ordinance was carefully crafted to prevent aggressive solicitation while still ensuring the protection of all citizens' right to free speech. The City ... is confident it will withstand this legal challenge," he said.

But recently, judges have not been so receptive to anti-panhandling laws.

So far in 2013, the ACLU has successfully won cases in Arizona and Michigan, which had its state law banning panhandling in public places struck down by a federal appeals court in September because it violated free speech protections.

Last month, police in Portland, Maine, agreed to limit enforcement of the city's new ordinance outlawing panhandling from street meridians pending an ACLU legal challenge, and a federal judge in West Virginia blocked enforcement of a panhandling ordinance pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the city of Parkersburg.

Richard Eppink, legal director for the ACLU-Idaho, said the city's ordinance is too broad and gives police too much latitude to target specific individuals. The group also contends the ordinance could create unintended and chilling consequences for nonprofits and other organizations seeking to raise money in public places downtown.

"The best time for a fundraiser to ask for money could occur anywhere," said Monica Hopkins, executive director of ACLU-Idaho. "This includes the downtown area where soliciting would be made illegal in most popular places. This new ordinance would turn fundraising downtown into a pitched battle against big brother."

The plaintiffs are also getting legal help in the case from the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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