The city of Portland has received a 30-day extension to decide whether or not to appeal a federal court ruling that struck down a ban on loitering and panhandling in street medians, according to the city attorney.
Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta said in an email Thursday that the city now has until April 14 to make a decision. The previous deadline was March 14.
The extra time allows the city to wait for a pending decision in a similar court case in Massachusetts.
Last summer, the City Council banned people from standing in street medians unless they were crossing the street. The ordinance, which took effect in August, was challenged by two political activists and a panhandler, who were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the Boston-based law firm Goodwin Procter.
The city argued that people standing in medians posed a threat to public safety, but the ACLU of Maine and Goodwin Procter argued that the ban violated an individual’s right to free speech.
Last month, U.S. District Judge George Singal, who heard oral arguments last November, found the city ordinance unconstitutional, because it did not apply to people posting campaign signs.
The battle over the ordinance thrust Portland into a legal debate over free-speech rights that is spreading around the country as a growing number of communities restrict when and where people can ask for money.
Lewiston and Biddeford have considered restricting aggressive panhandling. Biddeford officials were moving forward with a ban on the use of street medians to ask for money until the lawsuit in Portland led them to put the measure on hold.
In 2012, a federal judge struck down a Michigan law banning begging in public places, saying it violated First Amendment protections for free speech.
Worcester, Mass., was sued last year over restrictions similar to Portland’s. Its ban on panhandling in medians was upheld, but an appeal is pending.
“The pending outcome of the Thayer (vs. the city of Worcester) case will be instrumental in forming the City’s decision as to whether or not to appeal this Court’s final judgment,” the city wrote in its motion to extend the appeal deadline.
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: