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Boulder becomes latest city to scale back enforcement of panhandling law

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BOULDER, Colo. — Boulder is the latest city to ease up enforcement against panhandlers after a federal court ruling.

A Denver district judge ruled Grand Junction’s panhandling ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution because it restricts freedom of speech. Boulder’s city attorney recommended immediate changes to the municipal code so Boulder would not be at risk for a civil rights lawsuit of its own.

“Grand Junction’s ordinance was much further than Boulder’s ordinance, but the language in there made it clear to me that the same judge was addressing our ordinance,” city attorney Tom Carr said at Tuesday’s city council meeting. “Several provisions of our code would be found unconstitutional.”

City council members unanimously adopted Carr’s recommendations to scale back Boulder’s aggressive panhandling ordinance, which banned solicitors from approaching the same person twice or touching someone. The new version only bans panhandlers from intimidating or threatening the people they are soliciting.

The council also repealed a section of the panhandling ordinance prohibiting beggars from soliciting on Pearl Street Mall, University Hill and downtown. Panhandlers are now allowed back in those areas.

The changes are welcome news for human rights groups that have been fighting Boulder’s strict panhandling laws.

“We’re all people. We all have First Amendment rights to speech,” said Darren O’Connor of Boulder Coalition.

Boulder police stopped enforcing the panhandling ordinance since the federal judge’s ruling came down. Carr said it has not been a heavily enforced issue in the past though.

So far in 2015, the Boulder Police Department has issued five citations for aggressive begging and none for begging in restricted areas.

Some are not happy with the relaxed rules though. Lisa Mainero said she was walking along the Pearl Street Mall six years ago when she was attacked by a female panhandler.

“She got in my face. I was trying to say go away, go away and she just wrested me and I went boom,” Mainero said.

She said she ended up in the hospital with a concussion. She asked the city council to keep strict rules in place to keep Boulder’s most popular areas safe and family friendly.

City council members hesitated to pass the new agenda so quickly. They stressed they made changes as a legal decision, not a policy decision. They want to have a bigger discussion about panhandling rules with the public once the new council term begins.

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