Federal Judge Halts Part Of Boise's Panhandling Ordinance

Jan 2, 2014

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has halted part of Boise's new anti-panhandling ordinance. The ordinance was set to go into effect Thursday.

Boise approved the 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. 

Credit SalFalko / Flickr Creative Commons

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in November, arguing the ordinance is an attack on free speech rights.  At that time, City spokesman Adam Park said the ordinance was carefully crafted to punish overzealous panhandlers yet protect free speech rights.

Thursday, Lodge stopped Boise from enforcing parts of the new law, siding in part with the ACLU. 

In the ruling, Lodge wrote “The Court finds the balance of equities tips in favor of Plaintiffs (ACLU) as the City has failed to carry its burden to set forth substantial or compelling interests it is achieving through the restrictions on freedom of speech." 

“We are grateful that the Court validated the concerns of the plaintiffs and upheld the constitutional right to free speech,” said ACLU of Idaho's Legal Director Richard Eppink in a web post on the ACLU's site. “I don’t know why, when it comes to protecting the rights of those struggling with poverty and homelessness in Boise, it keeps taking a federal court to force City leaders to follow the constitution and laws they swore they’d uphold.”

Michael Zuzel with the Boise Mayor's office released a statement Thursday saying, the city is pleased with the court's ruling.

"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." ~ Boise Mayor's Office

The preliminary injunction will stay in place while the case between the ACLU and the City of Boise moves forward in court.

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