- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

CRANSTON, R.I. (AP) - Advocates for the homeless pleaded not guilty Tuesday to citations they received for panhandling in protest of an ordinance in Cranston banning such activity.

Six advocates were given a trial date for July in Cranston Municipal Court, said Karen Jeffreys, one of the protest organizers. They panhandled and distributed fliers at a busy intersection during the afternoon rush hour in March.

“Our assertion is that people have the constitutional right to panhandle,” Jeffreys said Tuesday. “By pleading not guilty, that’s the statement we wanted to make. It keeps the case going.”

The conflict is part of a long-running battle in Cranston, which last year acknowledged that a city panhandling ban instituted in 2015 was unconstitutional. The city agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Under a consent judgment filed in federal court, the city said it would stop enforcing the ordinance.

The city council passed a more narrowly tailored ordinance in February. Officials described it as a safety measure.

The Rhode Island ACLU plans to challenge the constitutionality of the new ban in federal court, executive director Steven Brown said.

Republican Mayor Allan Fung has stood by the ordinance. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

It prohibits people from asking for money while standing in certain places, including on medians near multiple-lane roads or on roads where the speed limit is higher than 25 mph.

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