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Oregon weighing anti-loitering law

ACLU says plan violates rights of homeless people

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PORTLAND, Ore. — City officials are considering an anti-loitering law aimed at homeless people that would make it illegal to sit on a public bench if police think it interferes with "the public use or enjoyment" of the seat.

The change also would make it illegal for people to sit, stand or lie on a sidewalk if it forces pedestrians to move around them.

Retail leaders have been lobbying the city to crack down on homeless people who take up space on sidewalks. But civil-rights advocates are attacking the proposed rules, saying they violate constitutional rights.

"If Portland wants to make it illegal to sit on the sidewalk, that's something that needs to be debated, and many views need to be heard on it," said Paul Levy, chief attorney in the Metropolitan Public Defender's misdemeanor section.

Levy joined attorneys from the Oregon Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union in a letter sent last week to City Commissioner Erik Sten raising questions about the rewrite of the city's police code. Sten said he shared their concerns.

The changes are "a major curtailment of what people are allowed to do in this city," Sten said. "The case hasn't been proven to me that this taking is justifiable."

A spokesman for Mayor Vera Katz said city council won't address the proposal until May. The mayor's office hasn't taken a position on the change.