Friday, October 2, 2015

If you don't at first succeed.....

Posted By on Fri, Oct 2, 2015 at 5:01 PM

City Council isn't giving up on its sit/lie ordinance, although it's created a lot of push back throughout the community and from the ACLU of Colorado. 
click to enlarge City Council doesn't like people sitting and lying around.
  • City Council doesn't like people sitting and lying around.
It's been amazing to watch Council take up this controversial issue — right before the November 3 election at which they're asking people to approve a 25 percent increase in the city's sales tax rate. The .62 of a percent hike would raise $50 million a year for five years when it would sunset. (City officials have already said they want to renew it for another five years after that.)

Anyway, with the ordinance first came up, ACLU opposed it in an August 24 news release, saying:
Sitting innocently on a planter that appears designed for that purpose is not a threat to public safety. It is an absurd government overreach to make it a crime worthy of a $2500 fine and six months in jail to sit, kneel, or lie down in a public place. This ordinance is clearly being proposed to give police another tool of selective enforcement to target, harass, and displace people who are homeless or living in poverty. Public spaces are more than just right-of-ways for shoppers and consumers. Courts have long recognized the importance of public streets and sidewalks as forums for free speech and peaceable assembly, and this ordinance would infringe on those fundamental rights. Rather than spending taxpayer dollars to criminalize peaceful conduct, Mayor Suthers and the Colorado Springs City Council should focus their attention on addressing the root causes of poverty and homelessness and on fixing well-established problems of racial bias and use of force in the police department.
Councilors, led by Keith King and Tom Strand, said they'd put off a decision until late November. But now, they're stirring the pot again. The "community discussion" will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

The notice says the ordinance is "designed to maintain pedestrian safety, economic vitality and public rights-of-way in defined areas of downtown Colorado Springs and Old Colorado City."

The ACLU, undoubtedly pretty fed up with the city's treatment of poor people, delved into the city's municipal court records and found that "Colorado Springs Targets Impoverished People through Unfair, Discriminatory, and Illegal Enforcement of Panhandling Laws," according to the headline of its September 15 news release. City Attorney Wynetta Massey has capitulated, saying old cases would be reviewed for improper prosecution of people who were passively panhandling, which is protected under the First Amendment. This is a huge concession that runs contrary to the city's position in the past that it does no wrong.

Most recently, the ACLU sent out this news release about a federal court decision regarding Grand Junction's attempt to deal with panhandling:
Federal District Court Judge Christine Arguello issued a 39-page decision yesterday striking down Grand Junction’s panhandling ordinance, ruling that it violates the First Amendment rights of persons who wish to solicit charity in public places.

Wednesday’s ruling expands on an earlier order in the case, issued in June, which held that the ordinance regulated speech on the basis of its content. That ruling required Grand Junction to meet the strictest standard of judicial scrutiny. In Wednesday’s decision, the Court explained that Grand Junction had failed to justify its regulation of expression.

“The ruling striking down Grand Junction’s panhandling ordinance will have ramifications throughout Colorado,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “The reasoning of this decision, along with Supreme Court rulings earlier in the summer, signify that almost every panhandling ordinance in Colorado must be repealed or seriously amended.”

The ACLU of Colorado has initiated discussions with city attorneys in Denver and Colorado Springs about the need for repeal or for major revisions of their panhandling regulations. Police in Colorado Springs were recently ordered to stop enforcing most provisions of the city’s two panhandling ordinances.

Grand Junction adopted its ordinance in the spring of 2014, and the ACLU of Colorado filed its legal challenge before the ordinance went into effect. The challenged provisions made it a crime to ask for charity after sunset or within 20 feet of an ATM or a bus stop. Other challenged provisions prohibited asking for donations from people standing in line or seated at an outdoor café. The Court ruled that Grand Junction had failed to support its contention that the regulations were necessary to protect public safety.

Dozens of Colorado cities enforce similar regulations that prohibit asking for charity in certain public locations, at certain times, or in specified situations. The ACLU of Colorado encourages all Colorado city attorneys to immediately review the Grand Junction ruling and consider whether their panhandling ordinances must be repealed or amended.

“The ACLU does not object to carefully tailored regulations that target coercive, threatening, or menacing solicitations that actually invade the rights of others,” Silverstein said. “But we oppose, and the First Amendment prohibits, broad regulations that outlaw peaceful, polite, and nonthreatening requests for assistance.”

Resources:
View the court decision: http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Browne-v.-Grand-Junction.Order-on-cross-motions-for-s-j.09-30-15.pdf

Visit the ACLU case page: http://aclu-co.org/court-cases/3757-2/

Visit the Criminalization of Homelessness Campaign Page: http://aclu-co.org/campaigns/criminalization-homelessness/

Of course, the Colorado Springs measure is seen as crucial to a happy holiday shopping season by the downtown community, which has had major influence over Council for years. 

All of which seems to suggest Council will keep beating this drum until the cows come home. And BTW, they're not allowed to sit or lie either.


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