Fort Collins, ACLU agree to settle panhandling lawsuit

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DENVER | Fort Collins has agreed not to ticket people who peacefully panhandle under a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union Monday in a federal lawsuit challenging the city’s crackdown on panhandling.

Under the deal, Fort Collins has also agreed to permanently drop some parts of its panhandling law, such as barring people from soliciting donations from anyone over 60 or near ATMs or bus stops. However, the city is keeping restrictions on aggressive panhandling. Panhandlers who try to intimidate people or touch or grab people while asking for money can still be ticketed.

Fort Collins maintained that its law never banned peaceful panhandling but the ACLU claimed the law was being unfairly enforced against homeless people holding signs and street musicians. In its lawsuit, the ACLU said it obtained copies of almost 100 panhandling citations issued by the city since the summer of 2012 and found that nearly two-thirds were issued to people it doesn’t believe violated the law.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four homeless people — Abby Landow, Jeffrey Alan, Susan Wymer and Lawrence Beall — as well as 76-year-old Nancy York of Fort Collins, who says she can decide herself whether to give donations to the homeless, and Greenpeace, which has fundraised on city streets for the last nine years.

The settlement comes as Telluride considers a law aimed at stopping aggressive panhandling. The ACLU has also objected to provisions of the proposal, which is scheduled to be discussed by town councilors on Tuesday.

Mayor Stu Fraser said he was surprised to hear their objections since the proposal is only aimed at preventing people from being harassed by panhandlers and does not ban panhandling.

Last spring, Grand Junction city councilors approved changes to their panhandling ordinance after the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the panhandling law there. Councilors removed a prohibition on knowingly panhandling from at-risk individuals and near school grounds and reduced a no-begging zone around bus stops and ATMs from 100 to 20 feet.

Durango agreed to stop enforcing its panhandling limits after learning of the ACLU’s objections.