- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - A ban on panhandling in downtown Springfield that was ruled unconstitutional could soon be off the city’s rulebooks.

An ordinance proposed this week would repeal panhandling regulations. Among them is a ban on verbal requests for an immediate donation, which the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional for infringing on First Amendment rights in 2015, The State Journal-Register (https://bit.ly/2lwWjkK ) reported.

The regulations would be replaced by similar ones for people asking for donations or money, or for trying to sell merchandise in public locations. Instead of panhandling rules, they’d be rules on “aggressive sales and solicitation tactics.”

The same tactics would be illegal, including approaching people within five feet, blocking people from entering a business, following people or using offensive language, among other rules. One new provision prohibits soliciting minors for money.

The ordinance needs to be approved by the Springfield City Council. City officials say the drive behind the ordinance is to ensure city code complies with the federal ruling and to help police address aggressive soliciting downtown.

“It does not depend on the content of the solicitation,” City Attorney Jim Zerkle said. “It applies to aggressive sales and solicitation tactics.”

When the federal court struck down the ban, it took issue with regulating the content of speech. The city argued its rules aimed to address behavior, not speech.

The proposal seems to be fairer, according to Mark Weinberg, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in two pending lawsuits against the city.

“It was hard to say it didn’t target speech before when it targeted panhandlers,” he said.

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Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com

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