Judge blocks most of Boise panhandling law

January 2, 2014 

Boise residents (from left) Barbara Kemp, Rachel Raue and Robert Mauro show signs in September protesting the law Boise City Council members passed that regulates panhandling in the city.

SVEN BERG

A federal judge’s decision on Boise’s panhandling law shouldn’t surprise anyone, said Richard Eppink, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.

Eppink pointed to the fact that federal courts across the country have struck down laws similar to the one Boise passed in September. He said he expects a preliminary injunction federal handed down by Judge Edward Lodge Thursday to “stay in place indefinitely,” either because the city of Boise repeals the law or defends it in court and loses.

City spokesman Michael Zuzel said in an email that Boise city hasn’t decided what it will do next.

ACLU-Idaho and two Boise men sued the city in November, seeking to have Boise’s panhandling law declared unconstitutional. Lodge agreed with the plaintiffs that the law, which would make asking for money in a variety of places illegal, violates First Amendment free-speech protections.

“The purpose of the ordinance is to suppress particular speech related to seeking charitable donations and treats this speech content different than other solicitation speech,” Lodge wrote.

“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.”

Zuzel praised the portion of Lodge’s decision that allows Boise to prosecute people who ask for money in an aggressive manner and in public roads. Lodge said those restrictions appear “likely to survive a constitutional challenge” because they’re related to safety.

The plaintiffs didn’t challenge the aggressive-solicitation section of Boise’s law.

“It is unlikely a municipality wants people soliciting for any purpose in a roadway,” Lodge wrote. “This creates a danger to the individual as well as to the operators of vehicles. It is not the nature of the speech that causes the violation of the ordinance but the physical location of the person who is soliciting that creates a prohibited act.”

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