Springfield is defending its policies on panhandlers after a new lawsuit accused the city of violating free-speech rights by barring panhandlers from asking for money.
The suit filed on behalf of panhandlers this week in federal court says police wrongly tell panhandlers that what they're doing is illegal. Springfield's ordinance is a bit confusing. It prohibits vocal requests for money, but allows someone to hold a sign making a similar request. The city passed the measure back in 2007 for the downtown area.
In an e-mailed statement, city spokesman Nathan Mihelich calls panhandling ``one the most perplexing challenges facing Springfield.'' He contends that, ``by definition, panhandling is unlawful'' and ``can be a public nuisance.'' He says Springfield encourages people to donate to charities. He adds ``handouts to panhandlers only exacerbate the problem.''
Mihelich says the city is open to alternatives to a ban. But he says ``a federal lawsuit is not a path to those alternative solutions.''
The lawsuit cites one plaintiff as making less than $25 a day panhandling with a sign reading, ``Please Help Out Any Way U Can.'' It claims the 52-year-old has been arrested for panhandling.
Similar lawsuits have been filed across Illinois, including in Chicago.
The Springfield suit seeks unspecified damages.