New law limits solicitations by individuals and organized groups
By Kyle LoJacono
The Hillsborough County Commission voted a resounding yes to a ban of panhandling on some of the busiest streets, including US 41 in Lutz.
The ban includes all state roads in unincorporated Hillsborough, which is everywhere except areas within the city limits of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City. The latter two cities have already passed similar bans, while the Tampa City Council rejected one last month.
There had already been a ban on the most used county maintained roads, but ones controlled by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) were beyond the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction. Sheriff Col. Gregg Brown said the deputies were calling in FDOT authorities to move panhandlers before the ban.
“This is going to make it much easy,” Brown said. “We don’t have to worry about what road people are on.”
Deputies have the authority to fine people up to $500 and put them in jail for as long as 60 days for violating the ordinance. Brown emphasized the goal of the new ordinance is not to put people in jail.
“It’s to get them off the roads,” Brown said. “It’s a safety issue.”
For the most part, first-time offenders are given a warning and asked to leave the road. The stiffer penalties would be imposed for repeat violators.
The provision passed by a 6-1 margin and also puts an end to people selling things and asking for charitable donations, such as the periodic boot drives done by the Lutz volunteer fire department.
Commissioner Mark Sharpe said causes like the Girls and Boys Scouts selling cookies and popcorn are worthy ones, but felt it is not safe for them to do so in intersections.
“I know I wouldn’t want my kid selling cookies and popcorn in the streets,” Sharpe said.
Additionally, Sunday newspaper vendors are no longer able to sell on the streets. Commissioners Sharpe and Les Miller each said they did not want the vendors to lose their jobs because of the ban.
“I had to work as a bartender to support my family when times were tough,” Miller said. “I know that’s why a lot of people sell Sunday papers.”
The commissioners were initially working to create an exception to the ban for Sundays, but Miller said any such plan would have to include Tuesdays and Friday as well. Those are the days the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, a newspaper that covers Hillsborough’s African American communities, comes out.
Pasco County is not affected by the ban. Panhandling and authorized vending and charitable donations are still legal north of County Line Road on US 41, also known as Land O’ Lakes Boulevard.