The city of Colorado Springs’ planned ban on downtown panhandling stands, at least for now, a federal judge decided Friday.
The ban is slated to go into effect Dec. 19, not Dec. 2, as previously reported.
Judge Marcia Krieger on Friday denied a request by the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union for a temporary restraining order against the city’s new “no-solicitation zone.” The judge scheduled a Dec. 13 hearing for arguments on the ACLU’s request for a preliminary injunction against the law.
Krieger delayed the preliminary injunction hearing because she said the city has not had ample time to prepare a response to the ACLU lawsuit.
City Attorney Chris Melcher said the city won’t begin writing citations for violations of the new ordinance until Jan. 19. In the interim, the city will conduct a public education campaign to help residents understand the new ordinance, Melcher said.
If the ACLU is granted a preliminary injunction at the Dec. 13 hearing, the constitutionality of the ordinance will be argued at a later date, possibly after Jan. 19. That could delay implementation of the law even longer.
The City Council on Tuesday approved the ban. The new ordinance bans solicitation such as panhandling in a 12-block radius in downtown Colorado Springs, including Acacia Park. The ACLU says the ban is unconstitutional and violates the right to freedom of speech.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU called the no-solicitation zone an “ill-advised ordinance that effects a breathtakingly broad suppression of First Amendment rights.”
ACLU Legal Director Mark Silverstein argued in court that despite the delay in implementation, the ban could still have a serious impact.
“The existence of the ordinance will still chill First Amendment rights,” Silverstein said. He said the city’s education campaign would have the same effect as if the law was being enforced because it creates an atmosphere of uncertainty for panhandlers and solicitors.
“The word out in the community is that the Salvation Army Santas won’t be able to ring their bells on city streets,” Silverstein said.
Krieger told Silverstein, “I’m not interested in what the media has reported. I’m not interested in the word on the street…I’m interested in facts.”
Salvation Army bell ringers and other charity workers will be allowed to solicit donations on private property downtown, as long as they have permission from the owners.
Melcher called the ACLU lawsuit “hypothetical and speculative,” and maintained that the city council was well within its legal rights.
“We remain confident that the court will agree with us,” he said.
Melcher said he “anticipates that the case may be resolved by Jan. 19.”
The city’s education campaign about the no-solicitation zone will be conducted mainly by the Homeless Outreach Team of the Colorado Springs Police Department, Melcher said. Other city staffers will also help, he said.
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