LEHI — The city recently passed an ordinance that restricts soliciting around town, as it said the number of panhandlers was on the rise. But a civil rights attorney says the ordinance basically bans everything from Christmas bell ringers to Girl Scouts selling cookies.
As new freeway ramps are being finished in Lehi, city leaders don't want them to be congregating spots for panhandlers looking for cash — and not in other public spots around town either.
The city's ordinance passed last month bans people from soliciting money in an aggressive manner in public areas. It also says soliciting money can't happen within 30 feet of a bank or automated teller machine, or even the entrance of a building that has a teller machine inside.
People also can't solicit money by standing on a street, or solicit from people stopped in their cars, among other restrictions.
But civil rights attorney Brian Barnard says these restrictions are so broad that they basically ban all kinds of solicitations, if enforced as written.
“The ordinance is so broad that it outlaws such things as the Salvation Army bell ringers," Barnard said. "It makes criminals out of the kids from the church youth groups who are holding signs to get people to come in for a car wash."
Barnard also worries about the possibility of police officers not enforcing the code as it's written, instead only enforcing it against what he calls scruffy-looking people, and not, say, church groups and others. Barnard says both those groups have the same First Amendment rights.
City leaders have not yet returned a request for comment, but the city said the ordinance was needed when they passed it, saying aggressive solicitation in certain places throughout the city was becoming disruptive to residents and businesses and it was causing apprehension and disorder.
Barnard sent a letter to the city asking them to amend the ordinance immediately, or it should expect to end up facing a federal lawsuit.
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