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City agrees not to enforce panhandling ordinance for now

The city has agreed not to enforce its panhandling ordinance while the lawsuit filed against it by the ACLU is being considered in U.S. District Court. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The city of Albuquerque for the time being will not enforce an ordinance that restricts panhandling.

The city and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico reached the agreement as part of a lawsuit the ACLU filed against the city over an ordinance that went into effect in December.

The legislation aims to stop people from panhandling on certain medians and other areas because of safety and traffic concerns. It doesn't prevent people from asking for or giving money.

Albuquerque isn't making admissions about the legality of the ordinance by entering into the agreement, according to court documents.

City Councilor Trudy Jones, who sponsored the legislation, referred to the law as a pedestrian safety ordinance.

“We're really confident that we're going to win,” she said of the lawsuit. “But we certainly don't want to be in a situation where we would be faced with paying damages to people who might have been cited.”

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said the department will train its officers about the ordinance and police will focus on “proven, effective community policing strategies to ensure public safety.”

The ACLU's lawsuit, in part, claimed that the ordinance violated people's freedom of speech. The agreement, reached last week, means that the city won't enforce the ordinance while the ACLU's lawsuit against the city is litigated.

“This ordinance has always been about pushing homeless people and poor people out of public view,” ACLU of New Mexico staff attorney Maria Sanchez said in a statement. “We're relieved that with this agreement in place Albuquerque's most vulnerable residents will be able to exercise their constitutional rights without fear that they will be harassed, cited, or arrested by the police. Through our lawsuit, we'll continue fighting to ensure the ordinance is declared unconstitutional and permanently stricken down.”

City councilors in November voted 8-0 on the legislation, which restricts panhandlers on medians within the flow of traffic. Former Mayor Richard Berry never signed or vetoed the legislation and it became law.

Under the ordinance, police could cite drivers for engaging with panhandlers or others while in a travel lane.

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