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ACLU: City Tries to Replace One Unconstitutional Law With Another

New Brunswick Was Sued and Now Wants to Institute New Ordinances That Do Not Have Support From Organization That Helped Sue to Overturn Them

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Earlier this year, the City of New Brunswick came out on the losing end of a high-profile court challenge, and agreed to repeal two antiquated laws against the solicitation of or begging for food or money earlier this year.

The city admitted there were "legitimate concerns regarding the constitutionality of the Ordinances" and agreed to "amend or repeal" them swiftly following the suit brought by the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness and a local resident.

Now, one of the groups behind that case says the city's proposed solution would be "inviting [another] lawsuit."

The city repealed the old laws, known as Ordinances No. 5.32 and No. 9.04.050(A)(6), but an agreement with the plaintiffs required the city to at least introduce replacement legislation within 90 days, according to a city press release.

Critics are already saying that one of the replacement ordinances is also a violation of people's Constitutional rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which helped with the case, says at least one of the two new ordinances on the agenda for the May 20 City Council meeting, is unconstitutional.

One ordinance regulates door-to-door canvassing, and an ACLU employee said that she was not able to review that one before the scheduled vote.  But the other, which implements a slew of restrictions on panhandling, is undoubtedly unconstitutional, she said.

"The ACLU believes that much of this ordianance is Unconstitutional," said the ACLU's Jeanne LoCicero, one of the advocates who helped a homeless man named John Fleming fight against tickets he had been issued by New Brunswick Police, allegedly for holding up a sign that asked people people for money.

"We wish the city had made an attempt to come up with an ordinance that respects people's rights.  This ordinance is really inviting a lawsuit," said LoCicero.

"Last year, the City did enforce the Ordinances, but the City will no longer enforce or prosecute the Ordinances," read the March 25 press release from the city.

"The City’s law department plans to introduce two new ordinances that will address panhandling and the regulation of solicitation of donations," it continues.

"Those new ordinances will be introduced at a future City Council meeting and must be done so within 90 days, as per the terms of the agreement. The two challenged ordinances will be repealed."

The last lawsuit cost the city $3,000, which went towards the attorney fees and court costs of McCarter & English, LLC, the law firm that represented the plaintiffs.  The city also gave $4,500 to Elijah's Promise, a well-known organization that helps the needy.

A spokesperson for Mayor James Cahill has not responded to a request for the city's justification for the new laws which were introduced on May 6.

It is scheduled for a public hearing at the upcoming City Council meeting, to be held on May 20 at 6:30pm in City Hall.