The Colorado Springs City Council passed the ordinance that will create a 12-block area in the downtown business district where soliciting will not be permitted on public property. Within hours, the ACLU asked a federal court to issue an immediate injunction to stop it.
"There's been a growing problem of solicitation, both panhandling as well as solicitation, and it is seen to be damaging our downtown community, damaging economic activity, discouraging tourists and families from using our downtown and really has contributed to a decline in our downtown that we're working very hard to reverse," Chris Melcher, City Attorney for Colorado Springs, said.
Melcher says the ordinance passed by the Colorado Springs City Council is similar to one already being enforced in other cities, including Dallas, Indianapolis and Fort Lauderdale. Melcher says those ordinances were upheld in court challenges.
The ACLU filed the challenge to the Colorado Springs ordinance on behalf of four organizations and four individuals, including Greenpeace and the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. The ACLU says the new ordinance will not allow those organizations to hand out literature to the public that includes requests for donations.
"City officials report that some panhandlers have been intimidating and harassing pedestrians," Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director, said. "In an effort to purge these menacing panhandlers from downtown, the City has unjustifiably transformed our clients' peaceful, non-threatening and constitutionally-protected communications into crimes. The First Amendment does not allow such overbroad suppression of expression."
The ordinance is scheduled to go into effect in early December.
"Our plan is to really start with an education program to educate the community and the individuals engaging in this type of activity. Then it would be to go to a warning system and encourage people to comply with the new ordinance and only after that period of 30 to 45 days would we move to a citation program," Melcher said.
The citations would carry with them fines that would escalate for repeat offenders.
Colorado Springs plans to install 13 surveillance cameras in the 12 block enforcement area and increase foot police patrols.
The new ordinance would impact organizations and programs like the Salvation Army's bell-ringers.
The Salvation Army operates 22 bell-ringer locations within the city of Colorado Springs, but only one is within the 12-block no-solicitation zone. The Salvation Army stopped using that location in advance of the passage of the ordinance.
Two hotels in the no-solicitation zone have offered the Salvation Army space on their private property to continue the organizations fund raising efforts.
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