Panhandlers sue over city ordinance

Panhandlers sue over city ordinance

SPRINGFIELD -- A group of panhandlers have sued the capital city and several police officers over a city ordinance banning them from asking for money downtown.
SPRINGFIELD -- A group of panhandlers have sued the capital city and several police officers over a city ordinance banning them from asking for money downtown. The ordinance, passed with the support of many downtown businesses, bans panhandlers from "vocal requests" for money in the city's downtown historic district.

The lawsuit claims the ban is unconstitutional since these panhandlers are on public property. The suit claims it is a violation of their freedom of speech. The lawsuit also alleges several police officers take the ban too far, sometimes arresting panhandlers.

The city issued the following statement:

        The city’s ordinance is reasonable and logically seeks to limit the public
        health, safety and welfare impacts of panhandling. At the time the ordinance
        was drafted, the city’s legal department determined it was appropriate;
        similar ordinances in other jurisdictions have been upheld.

        The city is always open to working with groups willing to provide alternatives
        to a ban, but filing a federal lawsuit is not a path to those alternative
        solutions.

        Panhandling is one of the most perplexing challenges facing Springfield. On
        the one hand, many people who panhandle are not only homeless, but also
        suffer from mental illness and addiction. On the other hand, by definition,
        panhandling is unlawful. It can be a public nuisance. It places our residents
        and guests in uncomfortable situations.

        Sympathy for a panhandler is understandably often a first emotional
        response for many residents, guests and tourists in Springfield. It is only
        human to want to show compassion, but handouts to panhandlers only
        exacerbate the problem. The city encourages people to donate to various
        social service agencies throughout Springfield who work tirelessly
        everyday to address the systemic issues of homelessness, poverty, and
        mental illness.

        -- Nathan Mihelich, city spokesperson
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