by Pam Zubeck
UPDATE: The ACLU just sent us this statement:
“The ACLU of Colorado is pleased that Colorado Springs has decided to repeal this overbroad, ill-advised and unconstitutional ordinance.
It was a tremendous overreach to try to forbid any and all solicitation in a huge 12-city block downtown area. The City was unable to cite a single case in which a court had upheld such a breathtakingly broad restriction of speech.
“We are delighted that the free expression rights of musicians, theater performers, nonprofit fundraisers and others will be restored and respected.”
———ORIGINAL POST, TUESDAY, MARCH 12, 2:01 P.M.———
After meeting in closed session Monday, City Council is of the mind to amend the panhandling ordinance that landed the city in federal court under an American Civil Liberties Union challenge, says Council President Scott Hente.
Hente says the existing ban on begging within 20 feet of businesses is seen as adequate to discourage panhandling in the downtown area. That provision wasn’t challenged by the ACLU, but it did challenge the ordinance’s general ban on soliciting, arguing it is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech guarantees.
The ordinance amendment, expected at a future Council meeting, would likely result in the ACLU dropping its lawsuit. Here's the city's release:
At the close of the City Council Meeting on Monday, March 11, and after conferring with the City Attorney, City Council decided that it will amend the City’s panhandling ordinance to withdraw the downtown no-solicitation zone while retaining the new prohibition on active solicitation within 20 feet of a residential or business entryway. Federal Judge Marsha Krieger affirmed the twenty feet solicitation buffer in February. Council will consider the amended ordinance in two required readings beginning on March 26.
“Both the passage of the new 20’ rule and the installation of the cameras downtown have led to a significant improvement in the safety, comfort, and attractiveness of our downtown. In just their first few months the cameras have successfully led to several arrests, and the City’s focus on stopping persistent and unwanted solicitation in the downtown has greatly reduced that activity. These two initiatives have accomplished most of the purpose of the no solicitation zone, and we, along with the downtown merchants, downtown residents, and our entire community, are pleased with the progress,” said City Attorney Chris Melcher. “At this time it does not make sense for the City to spend additional resources on the ACLU challenge, particularly given that the federal court was not sympathetic to our arguments and additional courts have not yet supported these zones. By withdrawing the no-solicitation zone now, before a trial or a ruling on the merits, the City will conserve resources and retain the option in the future to revisit a zone if it’s needed for the benefit of our community and our downtown.”