Court blocks Indiana panhandling law from taking effect

Indiana
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INDIANAPOLIS – A new Indiana panhandling law that was scheduled to go into effect on Wednesday has been blocked.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson granted a preliminary injunction on Tuesday preventing House Enrolled Act 1022, which would further criminalize “panhandling” to the extent of outright prohibiting most forms of financial solicitation by individuals and groups on Indiana’s sidewalks, from taking effect. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sought a preliminary injunction concerning HEA 1022, preventing the law from taking effect on July 1. A lawsuit filed on behalf of the ACLU and three ACLU staff members who solicit donations in downtown Indianapolis during the celebration of Constitution Day, claims HEA 1022 targets particular First Amendment expression in a blatantly broad, vague, and unconstitutional manner. 

The District Court concluded that “Indiana’s panhandling statute, in both its pre-amendment form and as revised by the amendments that are to take effect on July 1, 2020, is an unconstitutional prohibition on the freedom of speech.”  

“Because of the broad definition of financial transaction, the expansion of the places near where panhandling is prohibited, and the increase of the distance restriction to 50 feet, HEA 1022 leaves virtually no sidewalks in downtown Indianapolis or any downtown area in any Indiana city where people can engage in this activity,” said Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana. “This panhandling ban is an unconstitutional attack on free speech. Now more than ever, we must protect Hoosiers’ rights to free speech, in all forms.”  

While handing out copies of the Constitution, ACLU staff and volunteers have solicited donations to the ACLU of Indiana. Indiana’s law defines this behavior as “panhandling” because staff and volunteers have requested an immediate donation of money. 

“This preliminary injunction will help to protect the constitutional rights of all, including vulnerable Hoosiers who appear to be the particular target of this law,” said Jane Henegar, executive director at the ACLU of Indiana. “The Indiana legislature should be trying to remedy the reasons driving homelessness and joblessness. Criminalizing poverty is never a solution.” 

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(This story was originally published on June 30, 2020)

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