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Inevitable: ACLU of Idaho Launches Legal Challenge to Anti-Panhandling Ordinance

"The three members of the City Council who voted in favor of the ordinance are getting exactly what they voted for--a federal lawsuit."


It's not as if the city of Boise didn't see it coming. A 19-page complaint was officially served Nov. 4, putting city officials on notice that its recently passed anti-solicitation ordinance would have to be defended in a federal courtroom.

"The three members of the City Council who voted in favor of the ordinance are getting exactly what they voted for--a federal lawsuit," said Erika Birch, ACLU of Idaho board member.

Council President Maryanne Jordan and Councilmen Ben Quintana and T.J. Thomson voted in favor of the measure Sept. 17. Only Councilwoman Lauren McLean voted against it.

"The ACLU warned the city on multiple occasions that the ordinance that they were voting for was unconstitutional, but they chose to pass it anyway," said Birch.

In June, Boise Weekly reported the ACLU had successfully fought similar ordinances across the country (BW, News, "Out of the Panhandle, Into the Fire," June 5, 2013).

"I guarantee you that if this resurfaces in Boise, the ACLU of Idaho will be there," Ritchie Eppink, legal director of ACLU of Idaho, told BW. "We're prepared to fight."

Indeed, Eppink stood on the City Hall steps Nov. 4, court documents in hand.

Nearby stood Troy Minton and Larry Shanks.

"I've had a pretty hard life," said Minton. "I'm trying to get back into school to become a firefighter."

But he occasionally has to ask for help.

"If Mr. Minton were to ask someone for money at a crosswalk, an officer might say he delayed the pedestrian. Even a peaceful request could result in a ticket or possible arrest," said Eppink

Shanks, meanwhile, said he lives out of his camper and tries to get money for gas or food by playing his ukulele.

"Mr. Shanks couldn't play his ukulele where he was requesting money within 20 feet of any sidewalk cafe," said Eppink. "If the city is going to enforce this ordinance as written, he's going to have to think very carefully about where he plays and how he keeps his instrument case open."

In a statement from the office of Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, spokesman Adam Park wrote, "The ordinance was carefully crafted to prevent aggressive solicitation while still ensuring the protection of all citizens' right to free speech. The City will defend the ordinance and is confident it will withstand this legal challenge."