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Federal judge blocks Colorado Springs' panhandling ban

By Lindsay Watts, Weekend GMC Anchor/Target 13 Investigator , l.watts@krdo.com
Published On: Dec 18 2012 06:14:47 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 18 2012 11:57:40 PM CST

A judge ruled Tuesday that Colorado Springs cannot enforce its' panhandling ban. The issue will now go to trial.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

A judge has ruled that Colorado Springs' attempt to ban panhandling downtown is likely unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits the city from enforcing the ordinance. The ban was set to go into effect Wednesday, but the issue will now go to trial.

The ruling was a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union, the group that filed the lawsuit to stop the city from moving forward with the ordinance. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of four individuals and four organizations, including non-profit downtown theater group Star Bar Players.

"We are very low budget so we rely on a lot of guerrilla tactics to get people involved in our shows," said Alysabeth Clements Mosley, artistic director for the theater. "Which means handing out flyers, telling people on the street we have shows, we have a little sandwich board out front."

Those things would be banned under the ordinance, as would charitable solicitation. Clements Mosley said she's lived in downtown Colorado Springs most of her adult life and personally disagrees with the ordinance.

"We can't be so cavalier with our rights," she said. "I have the right to hear if people need help. I've always given money to panhandlers. I think it's important that private citizens make connections to other people."

In a statement, Colorado Springs city attorney Chris Melcher said the city is disappointed in the court's ruling, but respects the process.

"We continue to believe that the ordinance is constitutional and an appropriate effort by the City to protect our downtown merchants and residents, our visitors, families, and our community," said Melcher.

A city spokesperson said following the trial, a final ruling is expected in two to three months. She said if a judge again rules against the ordinance, city leaders would have to make a decision on whether to appeal.

City Council member Tim Leigh said he wasn't clear on how much an appeal could cost the city, but that he would be in favor of moving ahead with the process.

"I would support an appeal. I think the bigger issue, the supervising issue here, is the safety of the citizens downtown," said Leigh. "What we're trying to do is create an environment that's safe for the people to go downtown, enjoy their shopping, and enjoy just being downtown without the fear of aggressive panhandling."

Leigh said he feels there's already been good to come out of the passage of and discussion surrounding the no solicitation ordinance.

"I've been downtown on several occasions, I'll tell you that the panhandling situation-- what was downtown is no longer downtown," Leigh said.

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