Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Boise City Council Mulls Anti-Panhandling Ordinances, Following 3-Plus Hours of Testimony

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2013 at 7:57 AM

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The Boise City Council listened to more than three hours of testimony July 30 on the controversial Civil Sidewalk Ordinance—a city measure designed to reduce aggressive solicitation in public places. The City Council neither affirmed or voted down the ordinance, saving further discussion for a later date.

According to Boise City Police Chief Mike Masterson, the ordinance would address reported instances of intimidation and verbal threats, but many in attendance disputed that assertion, saying the ordinance would lead to discrimination against the homeless and that the law would only complicate the enforcement of similar existing ordinances.

Gail Black worried that the Civil Sidewalk Ordinance would add insult to the already difficult process of climbing out of homelessness.

"I had no photo ID when I arrived in Boise three years ago. It took six weeks to get a photo ID; it took two years to get out of homelessness," she said.

Some speakers saw the ordinances as a disproportionate response to a minor problem. Spencer Harrison described aggressive people on the street as a perennial problem of cities.

"Aggressive people are always going to exist," he said.

But several business owners described the problems they've had with aggressive panhandlers and the homeless in general.

"We lost two customers. 'It's because we don't feel comfortable downtown.' There is an aggressive panhandling problem," said Bruce Delaney, owner of Rediscovered Books.

"They sleep in my flower beds; they sleep on my deck," said Diane Hunt, who owns an office building, before expressing her disapproval with the proposed ordinance, which she says she would only make the problem more severe.

Many cited legal challenges that might arise should the Council affirm the ordinance. Ritchie Eppink, an attorney with the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Civil Sidewalks Ordinance would expose the city to First Amendment challenges, among others.

"There are some Constitutional issues to flag. [The ordinance] singles out a certain kind of speech," he said.

Before adjourning the session, Mayor Dave Bieter affirmed that he and the Council would consider the evening's testimony before addressing the issue again.

"We're listening and we're writing and we're taking this in," he said.

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