Panhandling – A homeless woman beats Portland’s ordinance to clear sidewalks
A Multnomah County judge ruled Monday that Portland’s sidewalk law is unconstitutional because it gives police the power to ticket people for simply sitting on the edge of the sidewalk.
Multnomah County Circuit Judge Stephen Bushong noted that the sit-lie ordinance was found unconstitutional by the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2005 and, although the city made changes, it is still unconstitutional. He also noted the ordinance conflicts with state law, which trumps city law.
The ordinance prohibits people from sitting or lying on the sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. It also bars people from putting their possessions on the sidewalk unless they stay within 2 feet of the belongings.
Bushong noted that state lawmakers created a law — disorderly conduct — that cities can use to crack down on undesirable behavior on sidewalks, such as blocking passers-by with the intention of annoying or inconveniencing them.
At issue in Monday’s case was Katherine Perkins, a 31-year-old homeless panhandler who was ticketed in August 2008 for sitting on a downtown sidewalk. Bushong threw out the ticket in his ruling.
Bushong’s decision is timely: The sit-lie law, also known as the sidewalk obstructions ordinance, is scheduled to expire in October, and city commissioners have been debating whether to renew it.
City commissioners voted 4-1 in May to extend the law for five months.
Clayton Lance, Perkins’ attorney, said the law targets homeless people because the city is worried about the impact homeless people have on business and tourism and, ultimately, the city’s tax collections. Lance, who took on Perkins’ case pro bono, celebrated Bushong’s ruling.
“When will they start to listen — that’s the $10,000 question,” said Lance, who believes city commissioners have little choice but to let the ordinance expire. “I think this ordinance is dead. They can tweak it all day long, and that won’t make it constitutional. It does not pass the smell test.”
When told about the ruling, Commissioner Randy Leonard said: “The one I voted against?”
Leonard said he opposed it because he thought it was unconstitutional.
“Once again, I’m affirmed,” he joked.
Deputy City Attorney Ellen Osoinach could not be reached for comment on whether the city intends to appeal.
EXTRA – Judge Rules Sit/Lie Law Unconstitutional, Portland Mercury, February 19 2009
EXTRA – Tempers flare over ‘sit-lie’ ordinance – Homeless people and advocates rail against a plan to extend the ban, Oregonian, April 30 2009
EXTRA – Homeless Liberation Front, managed a month long demonstration at City Hall in 2008
EXTRA – Sit/Lie Dead: Chief Sizer Suspends Enforcement, Portland Mercury June 26 2009
OUR COMMENT – Many, if not most, of the persons targeted by the Portland Police for citations under the city’s unconstitutional sit / lie ordinance are persons with mental illness or who are acutely affected by drugs or alcohol. All officers have received specialized training and are informed of options they can take to intervene with these people instead of arresting them or writing citations they cannot pay. They choose the lazy, and now twice judged illegal, practice of dunning the homeless. Pathetic.