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HOT SPRINGS -- A Hot Springs Village man who wants to continue giving to panhandlers has joined the lawsuit against an ordinance the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas argues is unconstitutional.

The second amended complaint filed last week added Todd Reid as a plaintiff, joining him with Michael Rodgers in the federal lawsuit the ACLU filed on Rodgers' behalf in June to permanently enjoin Hot Springs from enforcing the ordinance.

The co-plaintiffs represent both sides of a transaction the city has said imperils pedestrians and motorists on public rights of way. Hot Springs District Court convicted Rodgers for violating the state loitering statute in 2015, a conviction that was subsequently dismissed on appeal to Garland County Circuit Court.

According to pleadings in his federal lawsuit, Rodgers has since been told by the Hot Springs Police Department that he'd be arrested if he continued panhandling.

"The Hot Springs police in the past have informed him that if he dared panhandle in Hot Springs, he would be sent to jail," the pleadings said. "He is not alone. Many others also suffer this same government persecution and prosecution for their speech."

The complaint filed last week said Reid wants to continue giving to panhandlers from a vehicle, which is prohibited under the ordinance the Hot Springs Board of Directors adopted last month. The measure doesn't allow pedestrians and motorists to "interact physically."

City Attorney Brian Albright said earlier this month that both parties can be cited under the ordinance.

"[Reid] has given to panhandlers while an occupant in a vehicle in operation on the public streets of the city of Hot Springs," Reid's complaint said. "He wishes to continue to do so; however, predictably, the threat of citation and criminal liability under Ordinance 17-46 will chill his willingness to exercise his right."

The city suspended enforcement of the ordinance until the court rules on its constitutionality. In the interim, police have been issuing verbal warnings and distributing copies of the ordinance in an effort to educate the public.

Both parties are amenable to the court basing its ruling on the pleadings, with the city filing a notice earlier this month that waives its right to trial and the ACLU indicating in an earlier pleading that there are no issues of fact for a jury to decide.

The first amended complaint filed last month resumed the lawsuit after it had been on hold after the city board's repeal in August of the September 2016 ordinance that banned the solicitation of motorists on public rights of way. The regulation was enacted in response to the increased presence of panhandlers at busy intersections after the June 2016 dismissal of Rodgers' loitering conviction.

A federal judge invalidated the state statute on which Rogers' arrest was based, ruling that it violated the First Amendment's free-speech guarantee. Rodgers was a co-plaintiff in the suit and is also suing in federal court to nullify the amended loitering statute the state Legislature passed last year.

The ACLU won a preliminary injunction against it in September. The state has appealed the ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

State Desk on 01/16/2018

Print Headline: Spa City giver joins suit against panhandler ban

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