ACLU responds to proposed ordinance to outlaw begging drivers for money

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) - The ACLU could challenge a proposed change to Albuquerque's traffic code, that also serves as a crackdown on roadside panhandlers.

In fact, it was the ACLU that put the brakes on the city's last crackdown on panhandling a decade ago.

The new law would make it illegal for anyone to solicit donations from drivers, from any sidewalk or median.

City Councilor Trudy Jones is proposing an ordinance that would make it illegal for people to ask drivers for money from sidewalks. It also bans anyone from hanging out on a median, calling it a safety hazard for pedestrians and traffic alike.

On top of that, drivers caught handing money to pedestrians, could be cited.

"I feel bad for them and I feel it's pretty unobtrusive," said Joe Annabi.

What's interesting though, the bill makes no actual mention of the word panhandler. There's a reason for that.

More than a decade ago, the city passed an aggressive panhandling bill that banned begging downtown, in Nob Hill, around ATM's, and certain businesses. It also made it illegal to stand in front of someone or touch them while asking for money.

The ACLU sued saying it violated free speech rights and a judge agreed.

This time, the city is hoping to crack down panhandlers with a law that doesn't single them out.

"I think it's probably unconstitutional," said Peter Simonson.

Executive Director, Peter Simonson of the ACLU New Mexico, also disagrees with this ordinance on free speech grounds.

"Legislation of this nature, if it's introduced, and ultimately passed, we would probably wind up challenging it in court," he said.

The proposed law would also make it illegal for people to hold up signs on medians for car washes or fundraisers. Of course, people would still be allowed to stand on medians to wait for traffic to go by.

Council is looking at repealing the old aggressive panhandling law that's still on the books. They could do that and pass this new law as early as next month.


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