City looks to roll back aggressive panhandling ordinance

Local News

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — The city got a step closer tonight to getting rid of an ordinance that limits solicitation.

They passed it seven years ago to fight aggressive panhandling. Now, an uptick in lawsuits by civil liberty groups is making city leaders pull back. 

We spoke with the Urbana’s mayor, she says people aren’t going to notice any difference. They can handle these types of cases differently, like trespassing, and they haven’t ticketed anyone under this ordinance in years.

But on paper, this aims to please organizations like the ACLU.

“Our chapter is pleased you’re considering the aggressive solicitation ordinance, we feel that it is a first amendment and freedom of speech issue.”

Carol Spindel is the president of Champaign County’s ACLU chapter. The organization is a big reason the City of Urbana is looking to repeal this ordinance.

“We feel the supreme court precedent is against the ordinance and that it would not survive a challenge.”

The ACLU has focused on other cities with similar laws, fighting for them to get rid of the rules or face legal action.

Urbana’s attorney, James Simon says he got a letter from Chicago’s ACLU chapter.

“They contend it violates the first amendment.”

He says they cited several cases, some of which made solid points against them.

“Solicitation for immediate payment of money, sometimes called begging, sometimes called panhandling, there are other names, it’s clearly speech. Courts have found that is protective speech.”

City leaders say police haven’t ticketed anyone under this ordinance since 2014, and there are other ways to protect the public without having the ordinance in place.

To which Spindel agrees, saying it’s uncharacteristic of the Urbana community.    

“We like to think of ourselves as a welcoming and inclusive community, us Urbanans, so we feel we should resist the notion of criminalizing others because they are poor or because they come from outside our community.”

Councilmembers say when this was passed in 2011, it was to tackle a specific problem. It’ll go before the full council next before it’s officially repealed.

The city says a repeal will not significantly impact their ability to address aggressive conduct. That includes unwanted touching, harassment, or abusive speech. They can still ticket people for both trespassing and harassment.

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