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Lone Tree moves to repeal panhandling ordinance

First reading to bring code, Constitution into accord passes

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A Supreme Court decision from 2015 continues to reverberate throughout municipalities across the United States, as city council voted unanimously to repeal an ordinance banning “aggressive panhandling” to bring city code in line with the First Amendment.

Assistant City Attorney Kim Schledorn recently presented the ordinance to Lone Tree City Council, which, if passed at second reading on Sept. 19, will repeal a section of the city's municipal code, passed in 2004, banning “aggressive panhandling.”

The impetus for the ordinance, and several similar moves by municipalities throughout the United States, is “Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona,” a Supreme Court case concerning a church in Arizona that was prohibited from posting signs in certain areas to advertise its weekly services. The court ruled that by passing provisions to limit the posting of the church's signs, the town violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The ruling led to a wave of cities, including Lone Tree, rewriting their sign codes, but the phrase “content-neutral,” contained in the deciding opinion, has been applied to speech — including requests for handouts — as well.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado struck down several provisions of a similar ordinance in Grand Junction, finding that the law was restricting speech based on its content.

Schledorn said many of the provisions in Lone Tree's code, such as banning solicitations within 20 feet of a building entrance, solicitations after dark or repeatedly asking for money after being refused, were similar to the Grand Junction ordinance.

Lone Tree Police Chief Kirk Wilson is confident that other provisions in the code dealing with menacing, assault or trespassing still allow officers to protect the public, adding that calls the department receives, approximately one per day during warm weather months, are usually from residents concerned about the welfare of the panhandlers themselves, or their pets.

“It's largely an aesthetic issue … Some people don't want any panhandling,” Wilson said. “We follow the law.”

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