Monday, July 16, 2007

Does Gainesville have it right this time?

The nonprofit law firm that previously challenged Gainesville's panhandling ordinance has a new warning for city commissioners: The revised regulations that the City Commission approved less than a week ago could be opposed on constitutional grounds.

"We are disappointed that the City continually attempts to enact laws to punish homeless people for engaging in constitutionally protected speech, and perpetuating a vicious cycle that keeps people locked into homelessness," stated the letter sent to commissioners Friday by Southern Legal Counsel, a Gainesville-based firm.

However, city commissioners said the warning does little to dissuade them from their support for the ban.

Southern Legal Counsel's letter states that the proposed ordinance is unconstitutional on several grounds: It places restrictions on speech, including begging and political speech, both of which are constitutionally protected; it is too broad and punishes activities that are not disruptive; and it gives police "virtually unfettered discretion to decide what constitutes a violation of the ordinance."

In October, the city backed off its prior panhandling ordinance in an agreement that ended a lawsuit claiming the ordinance is unconstitutional.

Read the Gainesville Sun article here.


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