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Following ACLU criticism, Las Cruces votes to amend panhandling ordinances

The Las Cruces City Council voted 4 to 3 on Monday to amend two sections of municipal code after criticism of the city’s panhandling laws by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.

“We focus on the behavior of standing in a dangerous area,” said Jennifer Vega-Brown, the city’s attorney. “That’s what we’re concerned with. We are not concerned with an individual’s speech or what they’re requesting of others, we’re concerned about their physical safety.”

In August, the ACLU sent letters to ten New Mexican mayors after the organization’s lawyer described the laws as “unfair” and “legally indefensible.”

On Monday, city councilors voted to amend Sec. 21-63 of the city’s municipal code, concerning “solicitation” near streets or highways.

The new language of the amendment removes the phrase “solicitation” and “prohibits only unsafe loitering and standing on or near a street or highway,” which, according to the language of the ordinance, interferes with traffic.

Sec. 21-63: Old language: Solicitation on or near street or highway” New language: ” Unsafe loitering and standing on or near a street or highway”

City councilors also voted to amend Sec. 21-12-6-14.6 of the city’s municipal code, once again omitting the verb “solicit.”

Sec. 21-12-6-14.6: Old language: “Pedestrians soliciting rides or business” New language: “Pedestrians standing or loitering in traffic areas”

“I’m absolutely in agreement with us looking at safety,” said Councilor Greg Smith, who represents district two. “Making sure that we’re making conditions as safe as possible for the drivers, for the pedestrians, for the people who otherwise find themselves on the street.”

Both are petty misdemeanors, Vega-Brown said.

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