Zac Ong for Unsplash

The Texas Civil Rights Project is suing the City of Dallas on behalf of two homeless people over an October 2022 addition to the city code that would make standing or walking on medians illegal.

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“Despite phrasing the ordinance as a public safety measure, the entirety of the debate was centered on Dallas’ unhoused population,” the TCRP said in an email.

According to the preliminary injunction, the ordinance “criminally punishes poor people asking for help on street medians.”

Ostensibly the amendment, which imposes a fine of up to $500 for ‘dwelling’ on a street median, is to protect pedestrians from harm, but opponents say it is an attempt to criminalize panhandling, which the Supreme Court has ruled a protected form of free speech.

Adam Bazaldua from City of Dallas, D7

Just one Dallas City Council member, Rep. Adam Bazaldua, D7, voted against this item in October. At the time, Bazaldua warned his fellow council members that Oklahoma City was sued by the ACLU for a similar ordinance.

Bazaldua has said the amendment is redundant (that other ordinances already address pedestrians standing in public right-of-ways), legally precarious and dishonest — it’s an unsubtle effort to criminalize panhandling and homelessness and unconstitutional, he said.

“It is extremely disingenuous to stand here and tell us that this is about public safety. This is about NIMBYism,” he said. “The wording makes clear who we are targeting … it is narrowly tailored to focus on people who need the most help.”

Now council member Bazaldua is set to testify at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Dallas along with plaintiffs Alton Waggoner and Kawana Scott.

Waters Kraus & Paul, and the Southern Methodist University (SMU) First Amendment Law Clinic filed the Waggoner v. City of Dallas case last December, because the ordinance violates the First Amendment right to free speech, according to an email from the TCRP.

The Honorable Magistrate Judge Renee Harris Toliver will hold the first hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction Thursday, April 13 at 10 a.m.

It is not yet clear how much the City of Dallas will pay to defend itself in this very predictable lawsuit.