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New panhandling law a bad idea, say several council members

I was convinced it would be in violation of the First Amendment and free speech,” Minneapolis Council Member Cam Gordon (Green-Ward 2) said to Southside Pride last week, when he was asked why he opposed a measure that amended the City’s panhandling ordinance to include “aggressive solicitation.”
“The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has written a lengthy opinion on the constitutionality of the proposed Remington/Ostrow Aggressive Solicitation ordinance that passed today,” Gordon entered in his June 15 secondward.blogspot.com. Council Members Ralph Remington (DFL-Ward 10) and Paul Ostrow (DFL-Ward 1) co-authored the amendment.

“Their [the ACLU’s] basic interpretation echoes my own: the constitutionality of this amendment is highly questionable,” wrote Gordon in his blog. “They conclude, and I agree, that Remington and Ostrow, along with the Council majority, have now passed an ordinance that will unfortunately be challenged in court, and there is a good chance that we will lose,” according to Gordon.
“The amendment was overbroad, especially as to questions of free speech,” Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (DFL-Ward 8), who also voted “no” on the amendment, concurred. “We didn’t address changes to the aggressive behavior of some panhandlers and, if you’re talking about the probability of enforcement, it’s going to depend on what’s happening in any given situation,” Glidden said.

“The amendment is going to perpetuate the racism and bias that is currently going on in our law enforcement system,” echoed Gordon.
According to the newly amended Minneapolis City Ordinance 385.60, aggressive solicitation is “verbal requests for money or an item or offering an item or service of little value.”

And, these requests cannot occur at “restrooms; within 10 feet in any direction from a crosswalk; within public transportation or facility; on any park land, playground or public entertainment venue, including within 50 feet of entry or exits; at a bus or light rail stop or shelter; by a parked/stopped vehicle; at a sidewalk café; near the entrance of commercial or government building; within 80 feet in any direction from an ATM or financial institution (previous distance was 20 feet); at or within 10 feet of gas station, liquor store, or convenience store property.”

The city says aggressive solicitation involves “physical contact; blocking a path/entrance; following a person who said ‘no,’ then to ask again; using obscene/profane/abusive language; creating fear of bodily harm; threatening a criminal act upon property; intimidating a person while under influence of alcohol or drugs; soliciting in a group of two or more; and soliciting after sunset or before sunrise.” The language saying one-half hour before or after sunrise was deleted from the original amendment, apparently because it was considered too constrictive.

“We already had a [panhandler] law in place,” Gordon pointed out.
A 2004 ruling by a Hennepin County District Court that said the panhandler statute already on the books violated the First Amendment because of no compelling argument for the state to restrict begging and that the statute itself was too broadly drawn. The new amendment, if anything, broadens the scope of police power over First Amendment rights.

“Interestingly, we would not apply these same sorts of restrictions to other forms of speech that most people would find more objectionable,” Council Member Gordon observes in his blog. “For instance, one could stand on a street corner and loudly express one’s view that members of a certain ethnic group are subhuman, but one could not stand at the same street corner and ask for bus fare. One could proselytize for Satanism outside an evening Twins game, but not ask for money for a hot dog,” he wrote.

According to Council Member Glidden, “There was a long discussion of the proposed amendment.” The Council has had a lot of input about the problem of panhandling and homelessness in the past several years. A “Heading Home Hennepin” report, known as “Downtown 33” showed that of the 33 top “livability” offenders downtown, 85 percent of them gave a shelter as their address. These 33 offenders cost the system $3.7 million dollars over the years they were engaged with the system. Approximately 70 percent of arrests led to dismissals and did nothing to address the root causes of the problem.

“It’s a poor use of resources,” Gordon said.

“Better use of money would be the “Heading Home” initiative,” said Gordon. A 10-year plan kicked off by a county study released in November last year, the initiative noted, “Thus far, over 200 states, counties and cities nationwide have committed to ending homelessness by developing their own 10-year plans.”
According to the report, “In the short amount of time since these plans have been developed, these communities have found remarkable success in decreasing levels of homelessness. This year, Denver reported an 11 percent decline, New York City a 13 percent decline, Miami a 39 percent decline, San Francisco a 41 percent decline, and Philadelphia a 50 percent decline.”

Initiatives already begun under the county/city plan have provided medical care, housing and employment assistance information for hundreds of our area’s homeless.

“Actually, we’re just now hiring outreach workers for the program,” said Gordon, “so there isn’t even been time to see how well our plan works,” he said.

 

 

 

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