The Missoula City Council took public comment on Wednesday, January 9 on the challenge by the Montana ACLU over the current ordinance on panhandling.

A recent court decision in Boise, Idaho over the constitutionality of their ordinance is being used to force Missoula into reconsidering their anti-solicitation ordinance. Businessman Matt Ellis told the Administration and Finance Committee hearing that the downtown business community supports the current ordinance, as is.

"There's a lot more support for, than there is against, and it hasn't even been close in terms of numbers for and against," Ellis said. "As a council, I would encourage you to be careful, and to understand what the ultimate goal is here."

Ellis said the main focus of the ordinance should be for public safety.

"There is a large constituency in Missoula that is telling you that downtown is unsafe at times, and we need to solve the problem" Ellis said. "You need to keep your eye on the goal and don't slip into letting us go backwards."

Downtown Businessman Matt Ellis

 

Business Improvement District ambassador Laurie Johnson said she has personally witnessed aggressive panhandling that has placed people in danger on downtown streets.

"The motorist ban is critical," Johnson said, referring to a ban on panhandlers soliciting money from people while driving in their cars. "I've seen people walk out, while they're panhandling, at the corner of Broadway and Higgins to a vehicle and cross traffic, across the whole two lanes and panhandle to a vehicle."

Business Improvement District Ambassador Laurie Johnson

 

Mayor Jon Engen and ACLU staff attorney Anna Conley said during the meeting that they are working to keep the Missoula ordinance out of court, if possible.