By Kyle LoJacono
The Pasco Commission unanimously approved an outright ban of panhandling on all county roadways, except on Sundays.
The 5-0 vote came on July 26. The ban prevents people from asking for money or selling anything, and it includes nonprofit groups. The Sunday exemption was put in place as a compromise for those who sell newspapers roadside.
“We didn’t want those people to lose their part-time jobs,” said Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand. “Something like 200 people could have been out of work if we didn’t have the exemption.”
Commissioners say the ban is needed as a safety measure to try and reduce the risk of panhandlers and those hawking products from being hit or causing accidents.
“With social media today and the distractions of drivers, I think we’re trying to look out for the safety of citizens,” said Commissioner Ted Schrader.
Assistant County Attorney Kristi Wooden said the commissioners were given data showing traffic is 45 percent less heavy on Sundays versus the rest of the week.
“That really eased my mind on voting for it,” said Commissioner Pat Mulieri.
The ban does not bar everyone from the roadside as long as they do not ask drivers for money. It does not prevent people from giving out fliers or holding signs for businesses, commonly known as sign spinning or twirling.
Pasco is one of several county and city governments that have recently put some type of ban on panhandling. Both Hillsborough County and the city of St. Petersburg have passed outright bans without the Sunday exemption.
New Port Richey also banned panhandling in May. That city ordinance states it is, “unlawful for panhandlers to express implied threats of physical injury or property damage, attempt to maintain extended contact after receiving a negative response or impede a person’s movement.”
The Tampa City Council narrowly voted against a similar ban and is planning several workshops to further discuss the issue. It is scheduled to have more discussion about passing a ban at its Sept. 8 meeting.
Additionally, Zephyrhills City Manager Jim Drumm and Dade City City Manger William Poe Jr. say they expect to discuss a possible ban later this summer in the east Pasco municipalities.
Several Pasco citizens voiced their concern of seeing an increased number of panhandlers during the last few years. However, Devon Dougherty, assistant pastor at Victorious Life Church in Wesley Chapel, cautioned against the tactic of pushing the needy away.
“We do not find (the ban) to be addressing the situation of the homeless population,” Devon Dougherty said. He then added, “This is just sweeping the problem under the rug.”
Mulieri also did not like the fact that the ban prevents charities and civic groups like firefighters, Rotary clubs or the Knights of Columbus from collecting funds six days a week.
“If you’re going to take a stand, you have to take a stand,” Mulieri said to members attending the commission meeting representing such charities. After the vote she acknowledged the likelihood of the county being challenged legally on the new ordinance.
Language in the new ordinance protects the ban if the Sunday exemption is overturned on the legal grounds of it being selective enforcement, according to Wooden.
“If that happens, the ban would stay as a seven-day ban,” Wooden said. “The only two options are for it to be a six or seven day ban.”
Pasco has 10 days to submit the new ordinance to the state after its passage. The ban will go into place after that date.