Carbondale, Rifle make ACLU’s loitering list
Carbondale and Rifle were called out Wednesday, along with 32 other Colorado municipalities, by the American Civil Liberties Union for what it called antiquated loitering laws that can’t stand up to legal scrutiny.
Both Rifle’s and Carbondale’s municipal codes contain a law against loitering “for the purpose of begging,” which is the target of an ACLU letter imploring these 34 municipalities to repeal such laws.
Recently the state has seen a rise in enforcement of “ordinances that effectively criminalize homelessness and poverty, including laws that make it a crime to sit, lie down, take shelter or ask for charity in a public place,” according to the ACLU.
“These outdated ordinances, which prohibit peaceful, nonintrusive requests for charity in any and every public place, must be taken off the books,” Mark Silverstein, legal director for ACLU of Colorado, wrote in a press release. “As courts across the country, and here in Colorado, have recognized, a plea for help is a communication that is protected by the First Amendment. An outstretched hand can convey human suffering, can remind passersby of the gap between rich and poor, and in some cases can highlight a lack of jobs and social services.”
Last September a federal judge struck down a Grand Junction ordinance against panhandling, declaring it an unconstitutional law that violates the person’s First Amendment rights. Since then Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder and several other Colorado cities stopped enforcing laws that “placed unconstitutional time and location restrictions on peaceful requests for charity,” according to the ACLU.
“Not only do these anti-begging ordinances violate the constitutional rights of people experiencing homelessness, but they are costly to enforce and serve to exacerbate problems associated with extreme poverty. Harassing, ticketing, and/or arresting poor person for asking for help is inhumane, counterproductive and — in many cases — illegal,” Silverstein and ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Rebecca T. Wallace wrote to the 34 Colorado municipalities.
Carbondale Town Manager Jay Harrington said the town has been aware of the Grand Junction case and plans to present an amendment to this section of the loitering law to trustees this fall.
Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said his department has not enforced the loitering for begging law. The chief said this law was not in the town’s municipal code before Carbondale recently had its code revamped.
The municipal code update was approved through an ordinance in August 2015, two months before the federal court decision in the Grand Junction Case. Town Clerk Cathy Derby said the company that revamped Carbondale’s code made several best practices additions, and she believed the loitering “for purposes of begging” section could have been added at that time.
Mayor Pro Tem Dan Richardson said he’s interested in repealing the loitering law, though he couldn’t speak for the entire board. “Do we want to repeal something that’s unconstitutional? I think that’s a no-brainer.”
The Post Independent was not able to contact a Rifle representative for this story.
Rifle’s and Carbondale’s loitering ordinances are nearly identical: both also include provisions against loitering that’s associated with “unlawful gambling with cards, dice or other gambling paraphernalia,” engaging in or soliciting “prostitution or deviate sexual intercourse,” interfering with school programs or schoolchildren and the unlawful possession or use of controlled substances.
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