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'This case is not a close call' Judge blocks controversial panhandling law from going into effect

Posted at 3:51 PM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 15:52:50-04

INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge has blocked a controversial panhandling law from taking effect in Indiana.

The law would effectively ban panhandling within downtown Indianapolis. It was set to go into effect Wednesday. The law would make it illegal to panhandle within 50 feet of a parking meter, parking garage, ATM, restaurant entrances or exits, and public monuments.

Ken Falk, the legal director of ACLU of Indiana, said in February the law is “clearly unconstitutional, in addition to being cruel and insincere.”

“This is an attempt to drive people away from engaging in this activity in which we don’t like,” Falk said at the time. “One of the things the First Amendment has stood for since its inception is that sometimes we, as a society, have to tolerate things we don’t like. This just seems cruel.”

In April, the ACLU sued over the law, saying staff members solicit donations in downtown Indianapolis during the celebration of Constitution Day, and this law would infringe on their First Amendment right to do so.

Southern District of Indiana Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson agreed with the ACLU and criticized the law.

“… Indiana's panhandling statute, in both its pre-amendment form and as revised by the amendments that are to take effect on July 1, 2020, is an unconstitutional prohibition on the freedom of speech, and its enforcement must be enjoined,” Magnus-Stinson wrote.

In the court documents, the state argued the law helps with public safety, keeps solicitation from being disruptive to businesses, prevents intimidating behavior from “escalating to multiple acts,” and provides “a safe place for people to park their cars, go shopping, and purchase food without fear of being confronted with a request for money.”

But, Magnus-Stinson wrote, the state didn’t connect panhandling to those things. It didn’t provide statistics showing that panhandling disrupts businesses or escalation to criminal acts.

"This case is not a close call, because Defendants submit no evidence whatsoever to support the notion that the statute furthers a compelling governmental interest,” she wrote.

Not only will the new panhandling law not go into effect, but she also ruled the current panhandling law is unconstitutional, even without the new law's language.

"Defendants are PRELIMINARILY ENJOINED until further order of this Court from enforcing Indiana Code § 35-45-17-2, both in its pre-amendment form and as amended and effective July 1, 2020," Magnus-Stinson wrote.

The new law will not go into effect as planned on July 1, but the arguments will continue in court until a permanent decision is made.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Proposal would criminalize panhandling throughout much of downtown, likely faces legal challenge | ACLU sues over new Indiana panhandling law