Sit-Lie Ordinance Gets its Second Public Hearing

Sep 18, 2015

Colorado Springs City Council is making changes to its controversial sit-lie proposal. The measure would restrict where people can sit and lie down in two of the city's commercial districts.

Officials are now lowering the penalties from possible jail time and a twenty-five hundred dollar fine to just a five hundred dollar fine.

The city hosted the second of two scheduled public meetings on the proposal on Thursday night in Old Colorado City.
 

"It doesn't solve a problem," said Joyce Cheney, who spoke against the proposal. "Very short-term, what it does is move a problem."

"The folks this is intended to help the police with are intentionally lying on the sidewalk, keeping people from going into businesses on the west side," said Dave Van Ness.

"But I don't want to be connected with a city that has no conscience," said Mike Goldsborough.

Bryce Pugh spoke in favor. "I don't like being harassed as I walk in Downtown Colorado Springs, which is probably the main reason that I avoid Downtown Colorado Springs."

Of all the speakers who had a clear position on the proposed law, 21 were against it and nine were in favor.

In addition to reduced penalties, which were changed in response to public outcry, police will issue warnings and post signs.

City Councilman Tom Strand said the goal is to protect economic vitality and public safety.

"Now those that think we have ulterior motives can think that. I can't change you if you feel somehow we're against the poor."

The Colorado chapter of the ACLU disagrees with Strand. The group's legal director, Mark Silverstein, says the city already has laws against harassment and protecting people's right of way on the sidewalk.

"This is an ordinance that is designed to close off public spaces to members of the public, and I don't think that's right."

This isn't the first time the ACLU has challenged Colorado Springs. In 2012 the civil liberties advocacy group sued the city in federal court over its ban on panhandling downtown. The ACLU won and the city repealed the ordinance, but passed other laws restricting panhandling.

Holding a sign requesting a donation, known as passive panhandling, is specifically exempted from the city's ban. So the ACLU reviewed two dozen of the close to 900 panhandling arrests since 2013.  Silverstein says they found repeated arrests of people who were only engaged in passive panhandling.

"And in the court records, we saw fines that homeless persons were unable to pay, converted into jail time at $50 a day. So for a non-jailable offense, poor persons were nevertheless serving sentences for conduct that did not even violate the ordinance."

The ACLU sent a letter to the city this week calling on it to dismiss any charges or convictions against people conducting passive panhandling.

Police Chief Pete Carey says his department takes the charges very seriously but he hasn't had a chance to review the cases cited in the ACLU's letter.

City Council has delayed a vote on the sit/lie ordinance until November. There will be at least one more public hearing, which hasn't been scheduled yet.