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Aggressive solicitation ordinance revised by city council

The Medford City Council on Friday revised language in its ordinance prohibiting abusive solicitation to abide by a recent Oregon Supreme Court ruling that limits such solicitation to that which causes fear of harm or violent response.

Medford officials said the new language could strengthen their court case in which the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon challenged the city's ordinance. In addition to prohibiting abusive solicitation in all parts of the city, the ordinance bans panhandling in specific locations such as intersections with signals, banks and ATMs, and in lines of five or more people.

In a suit it filed in March, the ACLU alleged that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it limits free expression.

Medford contended that the ordinance doesn't violate free speech because it's aimed at regulating conduct and protecting public safety and is not targeted at a specific message.

"My first reaction is that (the language change) won't change a thing about our court case," said David Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon ACLU. The change does not address specified locations where panhandling is outlawed, Fidanque said.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia has not yet issued a decision on the case. Oral arguments took place Nov. 5.

Fidanque said the city would likely have to file the revised ordinance with the court.

City Attorney John Huttl was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment.

Attorney Lori Cooper, who stood in for Huttl Friday, said, "We tried to tailor the ordinance to protect free speech."

She said she was uncertain what would have to be filed with the court.

City Council passed the ordinance following complaints about panhandlers, especially at intersections with signals.

Medford police said the panhandlers presented a traffic hazard, especially when transactions occurred while vehicles were moving.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.