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Citrus Heights voted 4-0 to drop its panhandling ordinance. Here’s why

File photo, panhandling. // Image credit: Pixabay

By Mike Hazlip—
The Citrus Heights City Council last week voted to repeal the city’s panhandling ordinance citing potential concerns over First Amendment lawsuits.

In an Oct. 26 meeting, city attorney Ryan Jones raised concerns that the legal language in the existing ordinance could infringe on an individual’s First Amendment right to free speech. Jones recommended the council repeal the existing ordinance and approve a re-written ordinance at December’s council meeting.

“The reason that we’re doing that is in light of recent changes in the law regarding constitutionality, specifically free speech, associated with ordinances such as this,” Jones said.

A staff report refers to a 2015 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court which said “if any sign or message or communication must be read or heard to determine whether it is lawful or unlawful, it is considered speech.” Following that ruling, the staff report says courts have been invalidating panhandling ordinances across the country, including a 2018 case where a judge ruled that the City of Sacramento could not enforce its panhandling ordinance.

Jones reminded the council that state laws remain in place to address certain forms of aggressive or unsafe panhandling, and said staff plans to present a revised ordinance next month.

There were no comments from council members, and no public comment. The ordinance passed 4-0 with Councilwoman Porsche Middleton absent.

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