Civil rights advocacy group deems Granby anti-panhandling law ‘unconstitutional’
Granby town officials are making plans to update one of the town’s codes related to vagrancy after receiving a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union demanding the repeal of laws that the civil rights advocacy organization deems “unconstitutional.”
Colorado’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, commonly known as the ACLU, recently sent a letter to the town of Granby and 30 other municipalities across Colorado demanding the repeal of what they refer to as “unconstitutional laws that restrict panhandling.”
“These outdated ordinances, which prohibit peaceful, nonintrusive requests for charity, must be taken off the books,” said ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney Rebecca Wallace. “As courts across the country, and here in Colorado, have recognized, a plea for help is a communication that is protected by the First Amendment. An outstretched hand can convey human suffering, can remind passersby of the gap between rich and poor, and in some cases, can highlight a lack of jobs and social services.”
Officials from the town of Granby confirmed Tuesday that they have received the letter, but put the dispute in the context of an “outdated” town code that the town plans to update at an upcoming regular meeting.
“The ACLU letter references an outdated and unenforced section of the town code,” said Aaron Blair, Granby town manager. “Due to recent court decisions, we will be clearing up the code to comply with those recent decisions. This will be taken care of at our second meeting in September.”
According to Blair, the letter from the ACLU references Granby Municipal Code 9.05.030(b). That section of the town code, related to vagrancy, states that “it shall be unlawful for any person who is deemed a vagrant to remain in the town of Granby.” The code goes on to define what constitutes vagrancy within Granby. The section of the town code that Blair specifically highlighted as being opposed by the ACLU states: “Any person wandering abroad and begging, or any person who goes about from door to door of private homes or commercial and business establishments, or places himself in or upon any public way or public place to beg or receive alms for himself.”
The vagrancy section of the town code also includes additional definitions of vagrancy that are unrelated to panhandling.
The letter from the ACLU follows an October 2015 federal court decision in Colorado that found the court siding with the ACLU against a Grand Junction ordinance that “restrict the circumstances under which individuals and organizations could ask for charity,” officials from the ACLU stated. The ACLU announcement of the letters also references a US Supreme Court Decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, “which affirmed heightened protections for free speech, every case brought against panhandling ordinances — more than 25 to date — has been found unconstitutional,” stated representatives of the ACLU.
Granby was the only community in Grand County to receive a letter from the ACLU demanding the repeal of anti-panhandling ordinances. The list of 30 additional communities throughout Colorado that received similar letters from the ACLU includes Estes Park, Idaho Springs, Central City and Fairplay among others.
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US Forest Service officials have closed Willow Creek Reservoir in Grand County because of a potential blue-green algae bloom.