Two weeks ago, when City Council gave its initial approval to a solicitation ban downtown, not many people spoke in defense of panhandlers. Instead, those opposed to the ban said it would move panhandlers to other parts of the city, causing problems.
But things were different today. Plenty of speakers spoke on behalf of panhandlers and the homeless, calling the ban an unconstitutional limit on free speech and an attack on the poor.
Loring Wirbel, co-chair of the Colorado Springs chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the organization plans to sue the city over the ban, to which Council gave its blessing today on an 8-1 vote. (Val Snider cast the "no" vote.)
Speakers gave a range of reasons why they disagreed with the ban. Former City Councilor Tom Gallagher said he believed the ban violated a legal settlement the city made with a street performer in the 1990s. (City Attorney Chris Melcher disagreed.) Another speaker said that the ban was a violation of Republican values of "small government." And community activist Raven Martinez argued that banning panhandling was an attack on the poor that was against Christian values, saying to Council: "You answer to God."
But the ordinance also got support from downtown leaders and business owners, who said panhandlers are scaring away customers.
The panhandling ban could go into effect in December. Council also approved a ban on panhandling along state highways, which will include U.S. Highway 24 and could include Colorado Avenue, though the latter was unclear to the city attorney.