ACLU: Merriam panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional

MERRIAM, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union and another advocacy group are warning a Kansas City suburb that its panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional.

The Kansas City Star reports that no lawsuit has been filed over the two-month-old Merriam ordinance that bans pedestrians from standing or sitting on medians at nine high-traffic intersections, other than to legally cross the street.

But the ACLU and National Homelessness Law Center wrote that it “almost certainly violates the constitutional right to free speech protected by the First Amendment” and asked to meet with the city in an effort to “work toward an effective solution.” The ACLU has sued over panhandling ordinances in other cities.

Ryan Denk, the city’s attorney, defended the ordinance as constitutional. He said it does not restrict the content of residents’ speech, but rather, it makes it a violation for any person to stand, sit or go on the medians at the intersections, “regardless of the reason … or their speech.”

He also argued that the ordinance is narrowly tailored to promote public safety.

Police Chief Darren McLaughlin said officers would focus on educating the public rather than writing tickets.