Federal judge rules ban unconstitutional

Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — A federal judge has ruled the city’s panhandling ban unconstitutional.

For almost three years, the city has battled the issue in court. In 2015, leaders passed, and briefly enforced, an ordinance banning people from approaching people within five feet to ask for money.

You would imagine the debate would be over, but the city repealed that ordinance within months of this lawsuit. Since then, it’s adopted a broader rule banning all aggressive sales or soliciting.

The new version hasn’t been contested and it make exceptions for people panhandling who are sitting or standing on the side of the road with a sign. Even will all that, some city officials say the court battle could continue.

They believe the ruling is unfair because the original ordinance was only technically in place for a few days. The lawsuit was originally filed by three people attempting to ask for money on the street.

The estimated legal fees will cost the city more than $300,000. People who work and do business in the city have mixed reactions to the issue.

City leaders say they copied the five feet rule from a Colorado law banning solicitors from being within eight feet of a healthcare facility. If the city attempts to repeal the decision, it will be the third attempt.

The city has not paid out legal fees. It’s unclear when or if it will be ordered to do so.

Banning panhandling is increasingly being seen as a violation of free speech. In the past two years, federal courts have also struck down panhandling laws in Grand Junction, Colo., Tampa, Fla., and Portland, Maine, just to name a few.

Judge Richard Mills, who ruled in Springfield’s case, says the original rule targeted panhandlers proving the city was regulating what a person said instead of how the person said it.

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