Federal judge blocks Indiana panhandling law

TheStatehouseFile.comKen Falk of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana  

A federal judge has moved to block a controversial Indiana law designed to limit panhandling following a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. 

Jane Magnus-Stinson, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, granted a preliminary injunction against House Enrolled Act 1022 on Tuesday, one day before the law would have gone into effect to essentially prohibit panhandling in many large commerce areas, including downtown Indianapolis.

“This panhandling ban is an unconstitutional attack on free speech,” Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, said in a statement. “Now more than ever, we must protect Hoosiers’ rights to free speech, in all forms.”

The District Court echoed this argument by ACLU of Indiana leaders, concluding the panhandling statute “is an unconstitutional prohibition on the freedom of speech.”

Falk also said in a statement the law is too broad in its expansion of the number of places where panhandling would be prohibited as well as its restriction that people who panhandle must not do so within 50 feet of any place where a financial transaction might take place or a public monument.

According to the restrictions in the law, panhandling would be prohibited near any parking meter or public parking lot, ATMs, traditional storefronts and more. Those who violate the law could be arrested and charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

“The Indiana legislature should be trying to remedy the reasons driving homelessness and joblessness,” ACLU of Indiana Executive Director Jane Henegar said in a statement. “Criminalizing poverty is never a solution.”

The ACLU of Indiana filed the lawsuit in April against Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter and Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears. Lawyers with the Indiana attorney general’s office defended them in the lawsuit.

The state’s lawyers, according to court records, argued that because the law allows for panhandling in other forms — playing music for money and similar performances — it does not violate the First Amendment. The defendants also said that the panhandling law imposes reasonable “time, place and manner restrictions” on panhandling in the name of “protecting the safety and convenience of [Indiana] citizens on public streets.”

But the judge determined the defendants did not provide enough data to show how panhandling poses a realistic threat to local safety and business.

“For example, they do not provide any statistics linking panhandling to disruptions to business, or showing that panhandling typically escalates to criminal behavior,” reads a part of the decision. “And simply stating that individuals may not want to be approached for a solicitation is not enough to show a compelling interest.”

Legislators and others who advocated for the law, which was passed by the Indiana General Assembly in March, said at the time they hoped it would help to control rampant panhandling in areas like downtown Indianapolis.

Erica Irish is the 2020 Russell Pulliam editor for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. 

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