Court blocks Indiana panhandling law from taking effect for being ‘unconstitutional’

National Politics
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Above video: March 10, 2020 story about the passing of the panhandling bill

INDIANAPOLIS — A U.S. District Court on Tuesday blocked a law that would ban most forms of panhandling in Indiana from taking effect.

House Enrolled Act 1022 was set to take effect on July 1 and would have prohibited panhandling within 50 feet of a bank, ATM, restaurant, business or place where a financial transaction takes place (including parking garages and parking meters). The law would have also prohibited panhandling within 50 feet of a public monument.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and three ACLU staff members who solicit donations in downtown Indianapolis during the celebration of Constitution Day claims the law targets particular First Amendment expression in a blatantly broad, vague and unconstitutional manner. 

The District Court concluded that “Indiana’s panhandling statute, in both its pre-amendment form and as revised by the amendments that are to take effect on July 1, 2020, is an unconstitutional prohibition on the freedom of speech.”  

“Because of the broad definition of financial transaction, the expansion of the places near where panhandling is prohibited, and the increase of the distance restriction to 50 feet, HEA 1022 leaves virtually no sidewalks in downtown Indianapolis or any downtown area in any Indiana city where people can engage in this activity,” said Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana. “This panhandling ban is an unconstitutional attack on free speech. Now more than ever, we must protect Hoosiers’ rights to free speech, in all forms.”

Indiana’s law defines soliciting donations as “panhandling” because staff and volunteers request an immediate donation of money. 

“This preliminary injunction will help to protect the constitutional rights of all, including vulnerable Hoosiers who appear to be the particular target of this law,” said Jane Henegar, executive director at the ACLU of Indiana. “The Indiana legislature should be trying to remedy the reasons driving homelessness and joblessness. Criminalizing poverty is never a solution.”

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