Santa Fe suspends enforcement of panhandling ordinance

Santa Fe is the latest New Mexico city to put its panhandling ordinance on hold.

The ACLU claims it’s unconstitutional, while the city attorney wants to gather recommendations to protect people’s first amendment rights but keep the public safe.

“The city needs some time to review the panhandling ordinance in light of some concerns raised by the ACLU,” Santa Fe City Attorney Erin McSherry said.

The city manager took the McSherry’s recommendation to suspend enforcement of that law after the ACLU said it violated people’s freedom of speech and discriminated against the poor.

“We would continue to urge the city to just do an outright repeal and not replace it because we do believe that there are sufficient laws that cover any sort of safety concerns that the city might have,” ACLU Attorney Maria Martinez Sachez said.

The law states people cannot ask for money in public places between sunset and sunrise, and that doing so carries a penalty of up to a $500 fine and as many as 90 days in jail.

“The ordinance itself is very impacting because there’s a real serious issue with homelessness in this area and if they don’t allow the people to do what they can to survive then what we have is just a bigger problem with homelessness,” Danny Martinez of Santa Fe said.

The Santa Fe Police Department said it has given 13 panhandling citations this year and that officers will still enforce the city’s separate panhandling ordinance on private property, which includes businesses.

Santa Fe is following Albuquerque, which is still in litigation with the ACLU over the Duke City’s ordinance.

Albuquerque agreed in February to stop its enforcement until a judge decides if it’s constitutional.
The ACLU has sent letters to 10 New Mexico cities, urging them to repeal or change their panhandling ordinances. They are Artesia, Elephant Butte, Espanola, Las Cruces, Los Lunas, Los Alamos, Mesilla, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe and Silver City.

“Some of them have outright repealed their law. Others are reviewing their laws right now,” Martinez Sanchez explained.

McSherry said she hopes to make a recommendation to the mayor in January about whether to appeal or replace the ordinance.

“The city wants to protect people’s freedoms of speech and does not want to discriminate against a certain population,” she added. 

Elephant Butte is the only city the ACLU could confirm has already repealed its panhandling ordinance.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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