City officials recently sought clarification on the status of a “20-foot rule,” which they say effectively bans solicitation citywide. The move came as the city decides on whether or not to further defend its controversial No-Solicitation Zone ordinance.
Both the zone and the “20-foot rule” were passed by city council as amendments to an existing ordinance prohibiting aggressive solicitation.
Last December during a preliminary hearing, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger granted an injunction to stop enforcement of the No-Solicitation Zone deeming it “not likely to survive” constitutional muster.
The Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission opposed the zone and joined an ACLU lawsuit as one of several plaintiffs.
The ACLU did not challenge the “20-foot rule” in the December hearing and will now decide on whether or not to pursue the rule in court. The “20-foot rule” refers to the distance solicitors must keep between themselves and the door of a business. In November, council amended the “aggressive solicitation” ordinance to increase the distance from six to 20 feet.
Until a judge decides otherwise, ACLU staff attorney Rebecca Wallace said passive solicitation (i.e. sitting with a sign, playing for change, standing by a donation box) should be allowed downtown as well as all over Colorado Springs.
The No-Solicitation Zone ordinance seeks to ban the asking of money for any reason in a 12-block area of downtown, including Salvation Army bell ringers, scouting organizations and charities.
Plaintiffs joining the PPJPC in the lawsuit included Greenpeace, The Denver Voice, Star Bar Players Artistic Director Beth Clements Mosley, Rev. Roger Butts, street musician James Binder and disabled resident Ron Marshall, often found asking for change at the corner of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue.
Zone opponents say the ordinance’s purpose is to clear beggars and panhandlers out of downtown, but has been crafted as a comprehensive solicitation ban in an effort to pass free-speech tests.
“Homeless people have rights and shouldn’t be demonized by upscale civic leaders and merchants,” said PPJPC Executive Director Steve Saint. “I’ve listened to councilmembers basically label all pandhandlers as liars, frauds and criminals. There is some of that, but there are also a lot of mentally ill people out there who aren’t getting help. They need our compassion, not our scorn. We need to work together for new solutions, not new laws.”