City won’t enforce new panhandling ordinance during lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – Albuquerque’s new panhandling law is now on hold and it could stay that way for a long time.

The city agreed to suspend the law until a judge can decide if it’s constitutional.

The U.S. District Court last week approved a joint agreement between the city and the ACLU, saying police officers and other city workers cannot order anyone to refrain from panhandling or order them to leave a public place.

“People who are using the solicitation of donations as a means of surviving can go back to that without fear of arrest, without fear of citation,” ACLU Staff Attorney Maria Sanchez said. “One of our plaintiffs essentially will become homeless again this Thursday because she’s not able to make her rent at the hotel she’s been staying in because she has not been panhandling out of fear of being prosecuted and put in jail.”

The agreement came in response to the ACLU’s lawsuit filed against the city on Jan. 11, claiming the ordinance is an unconstitutional attempt to get rid of panhandlers by criminalizing free speech in public areas.

The city has not enforced the law since it went into effect on Dec. 6. The Albuquerque Police Department said it will keep training officers on the law in case a judge eventually signs off on it.

“[It] gives us more of an opportunity to add additional resources, create resources and more training for our officers to educate the public and eventually implement the ordinance, depending on what goes on in court,” APD Communications Director Gilbert Gallegos said.

Gallegos stated APD has already made a brochure to hand out to panhandlers about city resources for the homeless.

No court dates have been set for the lawsuit.

The city councilor behind the new ordinance claims the law is meant to keep pedestrians safe by limiting where they can stand and by banning the exchange of money in the street. Critics call it a thinly-veiled crackdown on panhandlers.

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