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Legislation similar to unconstitutional ordinance proposed in Santa Fe

A New Mexico senator has proposed a bill that would make the act of seeking or providing roadside donations illegal. Similar City legislation was previously struck down in a court of appeals.

In 2017, the City of Albuquerque tried to instate an ordinance that would ban the same. Courts later deemed the legislation a violation of Freedom of Speech in Martin v. City of Albuquerque.

The current legislation, Senate Bill 248, is sponsored by Senator Leo Jaramillo (D). The Bill is scheduled to be heard on Monday, Feb. 5 by the Senate Health Public Affairs Committee and was deemed appropriate for the short legislative session on Thursday, Feb. 1. This bill is supported by the Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham.

One member of the unhoused community, Rasheed Fargiyev, discussed their emotions and experiences regarding the bill and ordinances prior.

“This is people’s livelihoods – this is how I survive, you know what I mean?” Fargiyev said.

“Traditional public forums” are spaces that are often deemed as “open to political speech and debate,” according to Cornell Law. If passed, the bill will prohibit people from seeking and giving donations at spaces that are not a “traditional public forum,” such as sidewalks and curbs. Those who do could be charged with a petty misdemeanor and be liable for imprisonment of up to six months or forced to pay a fine of up to $500.

The goal of the potential ban is to “(increase) public safety and vehicular efficiency,” according to Lujan Grisham’s press release.

The unhoused population has risen by 6% since 2017. In New Mexico, around 12 people out of every 10,000 were experiencing homelessness in 2022, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The American Civil Liberties Union originally challenged the 2017 ordinance in Martin v. City of Albuquerque. Barron Jones – investigation and research manager for the ACLU of New Mexico – is wary of the proposed state legislation.

“If SB 248 becomes law, it will create obstacles that make it difficult to obtain many of the things that you and I take for granted – like fresh water, food and shelter – for some of our less fortunate community members,” Jones said.

There have already been arrests for “the illegal use of public spaces,” Jones said. He said since August, he has seen a sharp incline of people housed in jails like the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Many people experiencing homelessness, Fargiyev said, are frequently down on their luck, often have mental health issues that have not been addressed and need these donations as a short-term solution.

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Regarding the ways being unhoused has been criminalized, Fargiyev recounted a time they were arrested for sleeping in a public space.

“I used to sleep at UNM because it was one of the safest places, and one of the only spaces that would keep you from freezing to death. They were looking for people like me, and they were putting them in jail for (sleeping) there,” Fargiyev said.

Facing fines and imprisonment while being unhoused, Fargiyev said, is not an uncommon experience.

“You can’t arrest your way out of a public health crisis,” Jones said.

The state must look at the root causes of why people are unhoused, rather than criminalizing asking for donations and support, Jones said.

Lujan Grisham’s Senior Public Safety Advisor, Benjamin Baker, did not respond to request for comment.

“Instead of passing legislation that criminalizes the less fortunate – as a state and as  community members – we should spend our time and energy investing in evidence-based solutions such as affordable housing, behavioral health care, job training,” Jones said.

Karina Bolaños is the Culture Editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at 

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