By Kyle LoJacono
Members of the Pasco Commission took a step toward prohibiting panhandling within the county on May 9 after reaching a compromise to enforce the ban only six days a week.
“We wanted to find a way to do this without hurting Sunday newspaper sales along our streets,” said Pasco Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand. “The Tampa Tribune came up with the compromise and gave some very good reasons for it.”
Members of the commission were sympathetic to the fact that nearly 200 combined people are employed on Sundays by the Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times.
Additionally, the commissioners were given statistics that show traffic is about 45 percent less heavy on Sundays than the rest of the week. Part of the reason for the ban was due to safety concerns for people standing near roadways, but the figures eased the members’ minds on the subject.
“I think that’s a good way to go,” said Commissioner Jack Mariano said. “It’s very important to their making a living.”
Hildebrand agreed: “We heard from people who sell the papers on Sunday that they depend on the money to keep their homes. I also know it’s the only time some people get a newspaper during the week and I don’t want people to stop reading because they can’t get their paper as easily.”
Assistant County Attorney Kristi Wooden said the data provided to the commission has checked out and verified.
“If it didn’t, we could have been challenged legally by other groups,” Wooden said. “The data is correct, so the board can proceed without worry about the accuracy.”
Hildebrand said she takes advantage of picking up a roadside paper each week.
“The first thing I do on Sunday is to sit down with my coffee and my newspapers,” Hildebrand said. “I like having the ability to go out with my dollar and buy it right down the road.”
Under the proposed ordinance, panhandlers, roadside vendors and charitable groups seeking donations would need to wear reflective vests and have photo identification. Nonprofit groups would also be required to register with the state.
The Pasco Commission is scheduled vote on the ordinance at its June 7 meeting in Dade City.
The same compromise to allow roadside newspaper sales was rejected by the Hillsborough County Commission in March. Complicating the issue in the southern county was the fact that the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, a newspaper that cover’s Hillsborough’s African-American communities, comes out each Tuesday and Friday.
The Hillsborough Commission decided it could not give an exemption for some newspapers on Sunday and not others on Tuesday and Friday, so the members opted for an outright ban. Pasco does not appear to have such a problem.
The New Port Richey City Council adopted an ordinance the week before the compromise was reach with the Pasco Commission, which makes it against the law to express, “implied threats of physical injury or property damage,” while panhandling. People can still ask for money, but must stop once the other person says no.
The city of St. Petersburg has also passed an outright ban on all roadside soliciting in the last year. The Tampa City Council did not pass a similar measure a few months later.
The Florida Legislature debated banning certain types of panhandling and solicitation across the state, but it did not reach the Senate before the end of the session.
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