Judge finds panhandling ordinance unconstitutional

A Medford panhandling ordinance that prohibits solicitation of money at intersections and other locations is unconstitutional, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia has ruled.

Mejia's four-page order, issued March 19, found Medford's ordinance specifically violated Article 1, Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution, which prohibits passing any law restricting freedom of speech. He is expected to issue a formal judgment soon.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.

"I think it's important for government officials to understand that they cannot prohibit expression because they find it offensive," said David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU.

Solicitation of money, he said, is a form of expression protected by the Oregon Constitution.

If the city doesn't appeal the ruling, Fidanque said panhandlers should be able to ask for money again at intersections and freeway off-ramps so long as they don't violate traffic laws in the process.

City Attorney John Huttl said Medford officials haven't decided yet whether to appeal the ruling.

"We'll just wait for the judgment to come in and consider our next step," he said.

— Damian Mann

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