Iowa ACLU calls on Coralville to repeal panhandling ordinance

The letters, sent on Tuesday, urge Coralville and three other cities in Iowa to repeal ordinances for being unconstitutional.


Braden Ernst

The Coralville City Hall is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

Lillian Poulsen, Senior Reporter

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is urging Coralville and three other Iowa cities to repeal panhandling ordinances for violating free speech rights.

The organization called the ordinances in Coralville, Davenport, Dubuque, and Bettendorf harmful, ineffective, and unconstitutional in individual letters sent to each city on Tuesday.

“Harassing, ticketing, and/or arresting people who ask for help in a time of need is inhumane and counterproductive,” Shefali Aurora, ACLU of Iowa staff attorney, said in the letter. “Unlawful anti-panhandling ordinances such as Coralville’s Ordinance are costly to enforce and only exacerbate problems associated with homelessness and poverty.”

Coralville’s ordinance was passed in May 2004 and prohibits “solicitation from people in motor vehicles,” according to city code.

“No person shall solicit money or other items from a person situated in a motor vehicle that is located on any public street, alley or other public property,” according to Chapter 41 Section 14 of the city code.

The 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision Reed v. Town of Gilbert struck down content-based restrictions on signage and free speech. Following this decision, courts struck down more than 70 anti-panhandling ordinances by 2019, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

In 2018, the ACLU of Iowa sent similar letters to Des Moines, Council Bluffs, and Grimes urging the cities to repeal anti-panhandling ordinances, which resulted in full or partial repeals in these cities.

In addition to urging the four cities to repeal their ordinances, the ACLU of Iowa is asking each city to instruct officers not to enforce the panhandling ordinances while going through the repeal process.

The ACLU of Iowa has also asked that cities dismiss any pending prosecutions under the ordinances.

“Rather than criminalizing panhandling through these ordinances, cities can modify restrictions and infrastructure to optimize pedestrian and traffic safety while avoiding being prejudicial to those in poverty or limiting free speech,” Aurora said in a press release. “We urge the cities to promptly repeal their ordinances to avoid the risk of litigation.”