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Paonia addresses ACLU demand

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado is demanding that the Town of Paonia repeal an ordinance it considers un-constitutional.

Paonia was one of 31 towns and cities across the state that received a letter from ACLU Colorado last Tuesday, demanding the repeal of "unconstitutional laws that restrict panhandling." The letters are part of a coordinated effort to repeal panhandling laws considered to be outdated, according to a press release from ACLU Colorado.

An ordinance within Paonia Municipal Code contains an article titled "Public Peace, Order and Decency" that addresses loitering. It states that "a person commits the offense of loitering if he or she... loiters for the purpose of begging."

Town administrator Ken Knight said he was unaware that the ordinance was an issue, and that it's not currently enforced and no outstanding citations exist. The Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (CIRSA) is working with the towns and cities to address the issue, said Knight. In addition, town attorney Bo Nerlin is drafting a response to ACLU Colorado.

The letter is in response to Federal District Judge's ruling striking down a panhandling ordinance in Grand Junction in October 2015, "ruling that it violates the First Amendment rights of persons who wish to solicit charity in public places." According to the release, in the decision "the Court explained that Grand Junction had failed to justify its regulation of expression." At the time, ACLU Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein stated that the decision signifies "that almost every panhandling ordinance in Colorado must be repealed or seriously amended."

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