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Portland to limit enforcement of panhandling law

The police in Portland, Maine, have agreed to limit enforcement of a new ordinance banning panhandlers from standing in street medians until the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the ordinance.

City officials announced yesterday that the city and the parties in the lawsuit have agreed to hold a one-day trial Nov. 19.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine filed a complaint last month in federal court on behalf of three residents, claiming the ordinance infringes on free speech. The ACLU said while the ordinance was framed as a public safety measure, in reality it prohibits constitutionally protected speech.

The ordinance was spurred by an upsurge in the number of homeless people looking for roadside handouts coupled with an increase in reports of near misses with vehicles, intoxicated panhandlers stumbling in traffic and even altercations among homeless people jockeying for the best location.

Although it doesn’t specifically mention panhandling, the ordinance bans loitering in medians and forces panhandlers who are seeking money from motorists to move elsewhere.

Until there’s a ruling, the police have agreed to limit enforcement to people who are obviously impaired by drugs or alcohol and pose a safety threat.

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