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Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015 04:13 pm

New lawsuit filed against city over panhandling restrictions

Challenge says new regulations still based on the message

Three Springfield panhandlers filed a lawsuit against the City of Springfield today, following the approval of new panhandling restrictions last night.

The panhandlers claim the city's new restrictions violate their right to free speech in the same way that a previous restriction did before it was struck down as unconstitutional.

The Springfield City Council approved an ordinance last night which prohibits panhandlers from touching people or approaching them within five feet while asking for money. A federal appellate court in August struck down as unconstitutional a previous provision in Springfield's panhandling ordinance which banned vocal appeals for money in the city's downtown.

Don Norton, Karen Otterson and Jessica Zenquis of Springfield filed the lawsuit in the federal Seventh Circuit Court in Springfield today, alleging that the new restrictions violate their right to free speech. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision held that the level of regulation of speech cannot be based on the message of that speech. In the context of panhandling, that means a regulation which affects only panhandlers but not other types of speech is at risk of being deemed a violation of free speech. That was the reasoning used by the federal appellate court which struck down Springfield's provision banning vocal appeals for money by panhandlers in the city's downtown.

Mark Weinberg, the plaintiffs' attorney, said called the city's new panhandling restrictions "a hastily constructed response to the recent decision by the Seventh Circuit."

"We strongly believe the new provision suffers from the same constitutional infirmity," Weinberg said.

Jim Zerkle, Springfield Corporation Counsel, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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