Federal judge halts parts of Boise's new panhandling ordinance

Federal judge halts parts of Boise's new panhandling ordinance

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- The U.S. Federal Court is telling the city of Boise to wait just a minute on its new panhandling ordinance that took effect today.

Sections of the ordinance that were halted include: a ban on soliciting on public transportation, side walk cafes, near ATM machines or public toilets, private property, impeding pedestrians, bus stops or taxi stands and parking garages.

The judge did rule, however, that an ordinance banning panhandling in an aggressive manner (physical contact and intimidation) and soliciting from a car on the road if it would mean entering the road to get money can move forward. | Read the Docs

In the 17-page decision, U.S. Federal judge Edward Lodge said:

"The Constitution protects the rights of all citizens. Freedom of speech may be the most important right to protect in order to maintain our republic."

"The Court is mindful that citizens asking or even begging other citizens for money can make the person being asked feel uncomfortable and imposed upon. But in public places, all citizens must tolerate speech they don't agree with, find to be a nuisance, insulting or outrageous."

"Certainly, the First Amendment can lead to public inconvenience and annoyance, but such is a minor price to pay when the non-aggressive solicitations at issue can easily be ignored or avoided. The public's interest in restricting a person from asking for money in a non-aggressive manner does not outweigh a person's right to make a request for a charitable contribution."

The city's panhandling ordinance would have made it illegal to panhandle in roadways, near an ATM, near sidewalk cafes, at bus stops and in several other public places. A first offense would be an infraction and a possible $60 fine unless it rises to the level of aggressive solicitation in which case it becomes a misdemeanor with possible jail time.

The city issued a statement on the ruling Thursday afternoon:

"The City of Boise is pleased that the court's ruling did not affect two key portions of the ordinance, those banning aggressive solicitation and solicitation in the roadway. It is also important to note that the court made no final ruling on the validity of the third portion of the ordinance dealing with solicitation within certain distances of ATMs, sidewalk cafés, public transportation, etc."

"The ruling means only that this third section raised enough questions that the court opted to maintain the status quo while it reviews further evidence. Although the ordinance was to go into effect today (January 2), the City's plan has always been to emphasize education rather than enforcement for the first several months. The Mayor and City Council will review the court's ruling before determining next steps."