- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma City attorneys are defending a panhandling ordinance challenged in a lawsuit, saying panhandling lacks free speech protections.

The ordinance, which took effect in January, forbids people from sitting, standing or staying in traffic medians near busy intersections.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, along with a legal aid attorney and a University of Oklahoma law professor, sued the city in April. The lawsuit argues the ordinance violates constitutional guarantees of free speech and equal protection under the law, according to the Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/2fkmt7O ).

The lawsuit also said the ordinance is vague and too broad. Critics of the ordinance at public hearings also said the measure amounted to “criminalizing poverty.”

City attorneys said traffic medians aren’t traditional public forums, where courts have ruled people have a right to speak freely except for a few restrictions.

“Roads can only be safe public forums when closed to vehicular traffic,” the attorneys wrote, adding that the ordinance’s purpose is to prevent pedestrians from road-related injury and protect drivers from liability for those injuries. The attorneys said that panhandlers set out to distract drivers with their request for handouts.

“The ordinance is constitutional on its face,” city attorneys wrote.


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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