Council to look at cleaning up ordinance at next meeting
by Mark Reaman
The town of Crested Butte will adjust a section of the town code that deals with loitering after receiving a notice from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado.
In a letter addressed to mayor Glenn Michel on August 31, the ACLU notes that Crested Butte “is one of over thirty in Colorado with a municipal code that makes it a crime to ‘loiter for the purpose of begging.’ This ordinance not only unfairly targets poor and homeless persons whose pleas for assistance are protected by the First Amendment, but it is also legally indefensible. We write to ask that Crested Butte immediately initiate the steps necessary to repeal the ordinance and take it off the books. While the process of repeal is unfolding, law enforcement should be instructed not to enforce this ordinance.”
Citing several court cases, the letter states that in recent years, this nation and Colorado have seen a marked uptick in enforcement of laws that effectively criminalize homelessness and extreme poverty, including many laws that prohibit individuals from peacefully asking passersby for help. Harassing, ticketing and/or arresting poor persons for asking for help is inhumane, counterproductive and—in many cases—illegal. The ACLU letter explains that is why the organization has devoted considerable resources in recent years to reviewing, and sometimes challenging such ordinances.
The Crested Butte portion of the code that caught the ACLU’s attention states that “A person commits a Class 1 petty offense if he or she 1) loiters for the purpose of begging.”
“We need to address 10-5-40(b)(1) of the Code,” explained town manager Dara MacDonald. “There may also be a few other sections of the code that we will revise to ensure the town is in line with more current state and federal laws and judicial decisions regarding loitering and the treatment of poor and homeless persons.”
MacDonald said the town responded to the ACLU saying the town “recognizes the shortcomings in the code and is working on a solution, which [the ACLU] have indicated is fine.”
Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily said in his recollection, that portion of the town code had never been used. “We certainly have never used it to issue a citation,” he said. “This hasn’t been an issue in town and we will not be affected if they clean up the language in the ordinance.”
A first reading of the ordinance change is on the agenda for the November 7 meeting.