Wednesday, February 13, 2013

City scores a (hollow) victory on panhandling issue

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2013 at 6:50 PM

City Attorney Chris Melcher
  • City Attorney Chris Melcher
The City Attorney's office and Mayor Steve Bach are claiming they scored a victory in the panhandling case.

"The City appreciates [District] Judge [Marcia] Krieger upholding the twenty feet solicitation buffer. This will help improve commerce and reduce unwanted solicitation of citizens and visitors,” Mayor Steve Bach is quoted in a celebratory e-mail.

Sounds good. But really, the city hasn't scored anything.

Here's why: Last year, Mayor Steve Bach wanted Colorado Springs City Council to approve a No Panhandling Zone for the downtown area. They eventually got on board and passed it.

But Councilors argued that the ordinance didn't go far enough to protect city businesses outside the downtown area. So they also made a change to the city's longstanding ban on aggressive panhandling, saying panhandlers must stay 20 feet — instead of six feet — from a business entrance.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the downtown solicitation zone, and Krieger granted an injunction, preventing it from going into effect pending the outcome of a trial. She said she didn't think the law met constitutional muster.

But after the ruling, the city became confused, wondering if the 20-foot rule would also be affected by the injunction. They asked Kreiger for clarification.

ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein says this was somewhat amusing, since the ACLU had been clear from the beginning that it wasn't challenging the 20-foot rule, therefore, it wasn't under Krieger's purview to rule on its constitutionality.

"From the beginning of our lawsuit it was clear to the judge and to the city attorney that the only portion of the City Code being challenged was the downtown no solicitation zone," Silverstein says. "There were several express statements in our legal papers that confirmed to the judge and the parties that the challenge did not include the 20-foot rule."

In fact, Krieger's response to the city's question was one-sentence long and had an eye-rolling quality to it.

"The injunction is limited to the portion of the ordinance that is the subject of this litigation," she stated.

Judge Kriegers clarification
  • Judge Krieger's "clarification."

The city was asked for comment for this blog but hasn't responded thus far. Mayor Steve Bach's office has tweeted on the subject, however.

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