Missoula City Council to Reconsider Panhandling Ordinance - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Missoula City Council to Reconsider Panhandling Ordinance

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Missoula City Council members will reconsider a recently passed ordinance on aggressive panhandling, in light of a recent lawsuit over a similar law in Boise.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho sued the City of Boise over its ordinance banning solicitation, and a federal judge ruled in favor of the ACLU.

Boise's law on panhandling is very similar to Missoula's, which makes it illegal for a person to sit, lie, sleep or solicit within 20 feet of building entrances.

ACLU attorneys said this violates civil liberties, and they'll bring litigation unless the council decides to make the law less restrictive.

In December, council members approved changes to city law because of an increase in negative-- or even dangerous interactions between aggressive panhandlers and community members.

"We have a serious situation downtown and sometimes it rises to the level of a public safety problem," said council president, Marilyn Marler.

Marler said after they learned the outcome of the lawsuit in Boise, they've decided to vote to reconsider Missoula's ordinance within the next two weeks.

"Because their ordinance is so similar to ours, it seems like a smart thing to do to talk about it," she said.

Marler said then, council will vote to keep the ordinance as is, make changes to it, or to not readopt it at all.

"So that we could keep the intent of what we passed, but also to have it acceptable to the ACLU, or make us less vulnerable to a lawsuit," said Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Montana, Anna Conley.

Conley said the law violates First Amendment rights because it bans all forms of solicitation.

"Even peaceful forms of solicitation, music performing, peaceful begging, even some forms of political solicitation," she explained.

Conley said the sit, lie, sleep section of the ordinance also wrongfully targets the homeless community.

"It essentially makes them criminals because of a condition that could be chronic or involuntary."

Conley said if city council doesn't vote to make the law less restrictive, they'll have to file a lawsuit against the city, and she feels confident they'd win, given the ruling in Boise.

"All we need to do is enforce existing law, and not criminalize protected behavior that's generally benign," Conley said.

The City Council Administration and Finance Committee will have discuss revisiting the ordinance on Wednesday.

Council members plan to vote to reconsider the panhandling ordinance next week.

We'll keep you updated as we learn more on that decision.

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