Aurora, CO

Aurora mayor considers new regulations to limit panhandling

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman wants to crack down on panhandling.

"I'm concerned about the growing aggressiveness of some of the solicitations/panhandling on street corners, medians, and in the streets and I'm researching what other municipalities have done to address this issue from a safety perspective," Coffman said Tuesday morning in a Facebook post. The post showed a person disrupting traffic while asking for donations.

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Mike Coffman/City of Aurora

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Amendment protects panhandling.

The ACLU quotes City of Lakewood, Wash. v. Willis. "Robert Willis was convicted of violating Lakewood, Washington's anti-begging statute for standing at a freeway exit ramp near the intersection with a city street holding a sign asking for help," the ACLU explains online. "The Washington Supreme Court agreed with Willis that the restriction unconstitutionally violated his right to free speech and reversed his conviction."

Facebook commenters split

Willis established that the First Amendment protects speech in "traditionally public forums like streets, sidewalks, and parks, and laws banning certain speech (like panhandling) in these forums are content-based and therefore unconstitutional," according to the ACLU.

Several people reacted favorably to Coffman's post. Others criticized it.

"If I was an elected official, I'd be far less concerned about the 'safety issue' presented by someone in traffic asking for help to pay for a child's cancer operation, and far more alarmed about the systemic failures that led to this heartbreaking circumstance," wrote Matt Lynn.

"I'm in agreement," commented Raul Canales. "Safety should be No. 1. We need to let these people know they cannot violate laws and we need to hold them accountable. It's the only way to stop these events from happening."

Denver's panhandling law

Denver has not enforced its panhandling law since 2015 when a judge deemed a similar law in Grand Junction unconstitutional. In December, the city added language about panhandling to a gun bill.

That bill said people couldn't use aggressive panhandling tactics, including touching or causing physical contact without consent, intentionally blocking or interfering with pedestrian or vehicular traffic, using profane or abusive language, following a person to solicit a donation, soliciting in a group or using conduct, words or gestures to intimidate someone into giving money or other items of value.

Aurora's Republican majority on council has cracked down on people experiencing homelessness, recently enacting a camping ban like Denver's.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career at local newspapers. Today, I report on Denver and Aurora city halls for NewsBreak. Prior to joining NewsBreak, I worked several years as a health reporter and branded content writer in the healthcare space. I also worked many years as a news editor and city editor. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver.

Denver, CO
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