Judge blocks new Indiana panhandling law from taking effect

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge has blocked Indiana’s new tougher anti-panhandling law the day before it was to take effect.

The preliminary injunction issued Tuesday called the Republican-backed law “an unconstitutional prohibition on the freedom of speech.” U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ordered it could not be enforced while the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana proceeds.

The new law aimed to prohibit people from requesting money within 50 feet (15 meters) of sites such as ATMs, business and restaurant entrances, public monuments or the location of a financial transaction, which includes parking meters.

The ACLU argued that would essentially make it a crime to panhandle anywhere in the downtown areas of Indianapolis or other Indiana cities. The group maintained the new law was so restrictive that its staff could not solicit contributions for memberships on Monument Circle in Indianapolis each Sept. 17 on Constitution Day.

Magnus-Stinson wrote that the state attorney general’s office failed to provide evidence linking panhandling to business disruptions or escalations to criminal behavior.

“This case is not a close call, because Defendants submit no evidence whatsoever to support the notion that the statute furthers a compelling governmental interest,” Magnus-Stinson said.