It's hard to wrap your head around why politicians do the things they do. If it's not a Nobel Peace Prize-winning president begging to airstrike somebody, it's the so-called "party of small government" threatening a government shutdown so it can consolidate its hold on government.
The headscratchingest bit of politics in Boise these days is the much publicized anti-panhandling push euphemistically referred to as the Civil Sidewalks Ordinance.
Controversial from the outset, the measure has been criticized as heavy-handed, unnecessary and legally indefensible.
That last part is where groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho come in, more or less promising that Boise will find itself in court should the ordinance pass.
That's no surprise. Boise's sit-lie ordinance--so called because it prohibits sitting on city-owned infrastructure or lying within 10 feet of a building entrance or exit, or parking lot--is similar to measures in other cities like San Francisco. In that community, merchants reported that the ordinance had "not been effective." Citywide, more than half of all citations were given to just four repeat offenders.
Instead of making sidewalks more "civil," San Fran's anti-panhandling ordinance did little but generate paperwork for the police. At worst, these laws are lawsuit magnets.
The ACLU sued the city of Worcester, Mass., over its sit-lie ordinance in May, and Springfield, Ill., is currently fighting a suit filed against its panhandling ban. Cities around the country have seen their panhandling prohibitions successfully challenged in court. Chicago even had to pay out.
From that precedent alone, Boise's sit-lie experiment looks like a big risk; most panhandling-related suits rest on the First Amendment. Good luck beating that in court.
Boise Weekly freelancer Carissa Wolf explores the potential legal ramifications of the Civil Sidewalks Ordinance on Page 7 this week. Talking with homeless advocates, representatives from the ACLU of Idaho and policy makers, the piece reveals some surprising facts about how much the city has spent on legal fees in relation to homeless issues.
Most surprising: while city leaders are well aware that similar measures have often caused more problems than they solved, they're still committed to going forward. Commence headscratching.