Panhandling code faces changes after ACLU lawsuit

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  • 1731373_web1_copy_copy_Kanuha,-Dru-2013.jpg

Changes to Hawaii County’s panhandling laws are scheduled to be considered Tuesday, as two County Council committees tackle bills responding to a federal judge’s opinion that the local ordinances violate First Amendment rights.

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Changes to Hawaii County’s panhandling laws are scheduled to be considered Tuesday, as two County Council committees tackle bills responding to a federal judge’s opinion that the local ordinances violate First Amendment rights.

The bills, sponsored by Council Chairman Dru Kanuha of Kailua-Kona, expand the county’s solicitation laws to include other forms of solicitation, rather than just soliciting for money. The changes respond to U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway’s September opinion that the 1999 county ordinance is content-based. The judge granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the county from enforcing its panhandling law.

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with Honolulu attorney Matthew Winter of Davis Levin Livingston, asked Mollway to overturn the county ordinance banning aggressive solicitation anywhere and the blanket ban against panhandling in any county park.

The attorneys represent Justin Guy, who was cited in June while holding a sign off Kaiwi Street in Kailua-Kona saying, “Homeless Need Help.” The citation was later dropped.

The County Council agreed to settle the case in a closed-door session in January. Details of the settlement agreement have not yet been released.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Jennifer Ing said Thursday that the settlement is still pending, so she’s not at liberty to comment on it.

Kanuha is optimistic the changes will satisfy the plaintiffs.

“Our corporation counsel worked pretty hard to cooperate with the ACLU and make sure everything is fair for residents and those who have protections for solicitation in the U.S. Constitution,” Kanuha said

ACLU attorneys could not be reached for comment by press time Thursday.

Bill 39 greatly expands the definition of “soliciting” from the current definition of merely asking for money or financial support.

“Soliciting includes, but is not limited to, requests for money or objects of value, signing of petitions, participation in surveys, support for political candidates or other election related matters, and support for religious or other moral beliefs. Soliciting does not include passively standing or sitting, nor does it include performing music, singing or conducting other street performances,” the new wording states.

Mollway, in her order granting the TRO, said, “Section 14-75 (of the county code) applies only to requests for an immediate donation of money or other thing of value; it thus singles out some solicitation speech for regulation while leaving other solicitation speech untouched. … Section 14-75 bars a homeless individual, in certain areas, from asking passersby for immediate financial assistance, while not restricting individuals who ask others to sign petitions, participate in surveys, vote for political candidates, or accept certain religious beliefs in those very same areas.”

Bill 39 also changes the definition of aggressive solicitation to include following or blocking, touching or intimidating. It’s scheduled to be heard by the Finance Committee, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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Bill 40 changes how commercial activities are defined and regulated in county parks. It will be heard in the Committee on Public Works and Parks and recreation, scheduled for 11:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Council committees will be held at the West Hawaii Civic Center. The public can also participate via videoconference from the county building in Hilo, the Waimea council office, the county facility in Kohala, the Hawaiian Ocean View Estates Community Center or the Pahoa neighborhood facility.

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