George Branigan

George Branigan

Perhaps fearing another plunge into murky constitutional waters, Kenner City Councilman George Branigan on Thursday indefinitely deferred a controversial anti-loitering ordinance he had proposed last month.

When Branigan first pitched his ordinance, he noted that a library branch in north Kenner and the adjacent Muss Bertolino Park had seen increased complaints about homelessness. He said the ordinance might be a way to reduce those complaints.

But critics lambasted the proposal as overly broad and a violation of freedoms of assembly and possibly speech. They also noted that the library is parish property and already has "No loitering" signs posted.

Branigan's ordinance defined loitering as "remaining in essentially one location for no obvious reason, to linger, to saunter, to dawdle, to stand around ... or to otherwise spend time idly" in any public place.

On Thursday night, he said he was deferring it indefinitely after a flurry of feedback, most of which he said was positive. But not all of it. Alanah Odoms Hebert of the ACLU of Louisiana said state and federal courts had struck down similar measures. Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn said the ordinance would be difficult to enforce.

Branigan said he never meant to come across as without compassion.

"During the last two weeks, I have been tagged as the councilman proposing a new law because homeless people stink, which is totally ridiculous," Branigan said, reading from a prepared statement. "My goal is to work toward a solution that offers assistance to the growing number of homeless in our city while making sure public safety is not compromised."

The council unanimously agreed to the deferral.

The ordinance threatened to thrust Kenner once again into a harsh spotlight just a few weeks after a Zahn memo prohibiting booster clubs affiliated with the city's playgrounds from purchasing Nike equipment drew national attention. Zahn eventually retracted that policy.