ACLU: New panhandling law violates free speech

By RICK CALLAHAN
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — A new law tightening Indiana’s restrictions on panhandling violates the First Amendment by all but banning solicitation in cities, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana contends in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that seeks to block the law.

The law, set to take effect July 1, would prohibit most forms of financial solicitation by individuals and groups in the downtown areas of Indiana’s cities by expanding the areas where panhandling is barred, the suit alleges.

Current Indiana law includes a provision barring people from asking for money within 20 feet (6.1 meters) of an ATM or the entrance to a bank. But the new law's provisions include barring solicitation within 50 feet (15.2 meters) of ATMs, business and restaurant entrances or sites of a financial transaction, including parking meters.

The new restrictions will leave “virtually no sidewalks in downtown Indianapolis or any downtown area in any Indiana city where people can engage in this activity which courts have recognized is protected by the First Amendment,” Ken Falk, the ACLU of Indiana’s legal director, said in a news release.

“This panhandling ban is an unconstitutional attack on free speech,” he added.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis and seeks a temporary injunction to block the law from taking effect, arguing that it “targets particular First Amendment expression in a flagrantly broad, vague, and unconstitutional manner."

The law was among the measures Republicans who dominate the Indiana Statehouse pushed in the closing days of the legislative session in March.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed it into law on March 21 despite warnings from the ACLU that it was unconstitutional and would criminalize poverty.

The lawsuit states the new law is so restrictive that it would prohibit ACLU of Indiana staffers from soliciting contributions for memberships with the nonprofit advocacy group in downtown Indianapolis’ Monument Circle each Sept. 17, on Constitution Day.

The suit names as defendants the Indiana State Police superintendent, the mayor of Indianapolis and Marion County’s prosecutor.

The Indiana Attorney General’s office, which handles litigation challenging Indiana statutes, said in a statement that it was “reviewing the lawsuit and will respond as appropriate.”

Donald Morgan, the city of Indianapolis’ chief litigation counsel, said the city doesn’t discuss pending litigation.

The Marion County prosecutor's office declined to comment “at this time," said spokesman Michael Leffler.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com