Albuquerque city councilors approved a measure late Monday night that will severely restrict panhandlers in the Duke City, prohibiting them from soliciting motorists at busy medians and even on sidewalks, and also making it illegal for motorists to physically interact with them.
The pedestrian safety ordinance, sponsored by City Councilor Trudy Jones, doesn’t apply just to panhandlers. It would also prohibit so-called boot brigades that firefighters sometimes engage in to raise money from motorists, a Brownie trying to sell cookies to motorists, an individual handing out fliers to motorists or any other activity when drivers are being asked to physically interact with a pedestrian.
Under the new ordinance, a driver can be cited for physically engaging with panhandlers or others while in a travel lane.
The ban won’t apply in instances in which a motorist can safely pull over into street side parking.
The unanimous vote came toward the end of Monday’s lengthy City Council meeting and there wasn’t much discussion among council members.
Councilor Ken Sanchez did ask Jones whether she had discussed her measure with the Albuquerque Police Department and whether the ordinance is enforceable.
“Yes, this is an enforceable ordinance and they are more than willing to enforce it,” Jones responded.
After the meeting, Jones told the Journal that she proposed the ordinance to make Albuquerque’s streets safer for both pedestrians and drivers.
“We do have federal statistics and local statistics,” she said “Truly, the feds are very happy when we do this because they are concerned about our … accident numbers. It will be helpful.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has raised concerns about the constitutionality of the measure, arguing that people have a right to stand in public spaces like sidewalks and street corners to solicit. Similarly, Jeremy Reynalds, founder and CEO of Joy Junction, a local homeless shelter, has also spoken out against the ordinance, noting in a guest column published by the Journal in September that people who ask for money and food are just trying to survive.
Jones said she is expecting to be sued over the ordinance but argued that it isn’t infringing on anyone’s free speech rights.
“They have as much free speech as they want,” she said. “They just have to put it someplace different. We’re not trying to limit their speech; we’re just trying to say it needs to be in a safe place.
“We’re trying to keep them safe.”
The city previously had a stringent panhandling ordinance, but it was struck down more than a decade ago for violating free speech and due process rights.