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ACLU demands cities repeal bans on panhandling

A panhandler walks the median on Jefferson and Osuna in Albuquerque in January. The ACLU of New Mexico sent letters to multiple municipalities around the state asking them to repeal ordinances restricting panhandling in their communities. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico on Tuesday sent letters to 10 municipalities around the state asking them to repeal ordinances that restrict begging in their communities.

The ACLU and other organizations across the nation sent letters demanding the repeal of 240 such ordinances around the country in a concerted effort, said Leon Howard, the legal director for the ACLU in the state.

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ACLU of New Mexico Staff Attorney María Martinez-Sanchez. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The ordinances the ACLU is targeting in New Mexico vary in scope. In Santa Fe, people are prohibited from begging from people who are eating at a sidewalk cafe. In Española, multiple people can’t beg together, and in Artesia, people need to get a permit approved by a city or police official before panhandling, said María Martinez Sanchez, a staff attorney with the ACLU.

 

The ACLU argues, in part, that the ordinances violate the First Amendment because they restrict freedom of speech.

Mayors from those three cities didn’t return calls for comment on Tuesday.

“Those ordinances that we are targeting, they vary, but they have a common goal of making it impossible or nearly impossible for people to request assistance from their community,” Martinez Sanchez said.

People who violate the ordinances in question can face hundreds of dollars in fines or, in some cases, up to 90 days in jail.

The mayors of Rio Rancho, Elephant Butte, Silver City, Artesia, Las Cruces, Española, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Mesilla and Los Lunas received letters Tuesday.

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ACLU of New Mexico Legal Director Leon Howard announces an initiative targeting panhandling ordinances in 10 cities across the state. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller wasn’t on the list to get a notice from the ACLU.

But the ACLU has a pending lawsuit against Albuquerque over a city ordinance approved late last year that restricts panhandling on certain medians and other areas because of traffic safety concerns. The city has agreed not to enforce the ordinance while the case is being litigated, though the city has agreed to pay a nonprofit $7,500 because officers were enforcing the ordinance despite the court order.

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