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City scraps contentious panhandling ordinance

By Geoff Ritter
updated: 8/30/2019 9:11 AM

The Carbondale City Council has repealed a contentious ordinance that sought to crack down on panhandling in the city.

In a unanimous vote, the council voted Tuesday to scrap its panhandling ordinance entirely, joining a handful of communites around the state that had passed similar measures, only to see them challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Carbondale's ordinance, which has been on the books for several years, targeted "aggressive panhandling," which includes touching, blocking the path of, following or using profane language against the person being solicited for money.

The ordinance has been loosely enforced. According to the repeal passed this week, police responded to 103 panhandling complaints from Jan. 1 to July 24, but only issued one citation for unlawful panhandling.

In August 2018, the ACLU sent the city a letter saying the ordinance was unconstitutional based on recent court rulings, which have determined panhandling is inextricable from free speech. The ACLU sent a second letter to the city this summer.

The ordinance first was passed after business owners, among others, complained about the effects they said panhandling had on their businesses. The city's newly passed repeal hints that the city still will look for ways to address the issue.

"As there are other ordinances that address issues related to aggressive panhandling, such as, disorderly conduct, staff will consider other options to address this issue which are content-neutral and which will withstand constitutional challenges," the council's agenda item states.

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