Downtown Boise

ACLU-Idaho sues City of Boise, challenging panhandling ordinance

ACLU-Idaho sues City of Boise, challenging panhandling ordinance »Play Video

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI & AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho is taking aim at the City of Boise's new rules designed to restrict panhandling downtown.

"The ordinance goes too far and violates constitutionally protected speech," said Erika Birch, an ACLU-Idaho board member.

The organization, joined by two homeless plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court arguing the city's ordinance is an attack on free speech rights. ACLU-Idaho Legal Director Richard Eppink also contends the rules unfairly harm families, veterans and disabled citizens struggling to make ends meet.

"It's great that somebody's stepping up against (the city) and just calling it to attention that they might be stepping a little bit too far past the line," said Steven Mercado of Boise.

Boise leaders approved an ordinance in September to crack down on aggressive panhandling. The tougher rules make a first offense an infraction when panhandlers seek handouts while someone is crossing a roadway or near a sidewalk cafe.

City spokesman Adam Park says the ordinance was carefully crafted to punish overzealous panhandlers yet protect free speech rights.