Published: 3:25 pm, Tue. Aug. 28th, 2018Updated: 3:24 pm
Artesia was among 10 New Mexico cities issued a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Monday demanding they repeal their ordinances regarding panhandling.
Along with Elephant Butte, Espanola, Las Cruces, Los Alamos, Los Lunas, Mesilla, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe and Silver City, the City of Artesia was informed the ACLU believes its panhandling ordinance to be “unconstitutional” and a violation of free speech.
“Panhandling is indeed protected speech,” Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU in New Mexico, said in a statement. “I think it’s speech that is important for we, as citizens, in our cities, to hear. It’s speech that confronts us with the realities of the economic system that we live in.”
The letters were issued as part of a coordinated effort with the National Center on Homelessness and Poverty that has also seen communications sent to hundreds of other municipalities in 12 states.
The Associated Press reported today that Santa Fe’s ordinance prohibits panhandlers from begging from individuals eating at sidewalk cafés, while Espanola’s prohibits multiple people from panhandling in a group.
The AP also quoted ACLU staff attorney Maria Martinez Sanchez as stating that in Artesia, panhandlers must obtain a permit approved by a city or police official before they can beg for money.
The ACLU alleges the ordinances target the homeless and criminalize poverty.
During Tuesday’s regularly-scheduled meeting of the Artesia City Council, however, Mayor Raye Miller stated Artesia’s ordinance was created in response to panhandling activities that created a danger for both the panhandlers and the travelling public.
“The issues we had were with folks who came to our city who didn’t appear to be homeless or in poverty but did a great job of possibly creating life-threatening situations for them as well as people trying to drive vehicles through intersections,” Miller said.
The panhandlers in question claimed to be representing a church in Dallas, Texas, and were walking into intersections during red lights. The city says it crafted its ordinance to address a public safety issue.
Firefighters who once raised funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s nationally-accredited Fill the Boot campaign by collecting money in a similar way long ago stopped walking into roadways due to safety concerns.
Miller asked Police Chief Kirk Roberts to look into whether anyone had been cited under Artesia’s ordinance since its implementation; it is believed none have.
The ACLU says it has given the mayors of the 10 New Mexico cities until Sept. 11 to respond to its demands and will be prepared to take the matter to court if no action is taken.