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Missoula to Debate Free Speech Elements of Anti-Solicitation Ordinance

panhandling
Photo courtesy of dreamsjung/Flickr

On Thursday, January 2, U.S. District Federal court judge Edward Lodge ruled against the city of Boise over a set of anti-solicitation laws. Lodge’s ruling has shaken up legislation in cities with similar laws including Missoula.

The heart of the ruling rests on the issue of free speech as can be seen in the following excerpt from Lodge’s decision:

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.

 

Missoula city councilman Adam Hertz said that, although he has always questioned Missoula’s anti-solicitation (panhandling) laws, the decision against Boise encouraged him to ask for the mayor and city council to reconsider the laws.

“It gave some council members concern that some of the pieces in Missoula’s anti-solicitation ordinance might also be ruled unconstitutional,” Hertz said. “We’re going to take a look at reconsideration and see where it goes from there. If a council member elects to move forward with a motion to reconsider, that will be at next week’s city council meeting on January 13.”

The initial meeting on whether or not to reconsider will be held on Wednesday, January 8 at 1:00 p.m. and will be open to public comment. Hertz said it was unclear what parts, if any, of Missoula’s laws are at risk of being thrown out, but that the main conversation will be about the issues surrounding free speech.

“Soliciting within a certain distance of a building,” said Hertz, when asked if he could name an element that might need to be reconsidered. “We’d still be able to keep aggressive solicitation as illegal, any aggressive act, certainly crosses the line of free speech, but the non-aggressive bans might be looked at. It’s hard to say where the ‘sit, lie, sleep ban’ will play into this.”

The case brought against the city of Boise was presented by the American Civil Liberties Union. The same organization has written letters to Missoula Mayor John Engen over this exact issue.

ACLU letter to John Engen

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