The Pasco County Commission wants to follow Lee County’s lead, in enacting an ordinance that aims to reduce panhandling — while avoiding potential concerns about free speech violations.
Patrick Moore, a senior assistant county attorney, explained the approach during the county board’s Oct. 26 meeting.
In essence, the new approach makes it illegal for people to stand in a roadway area that’s less than 6 feet wide and prohibits physical interactions between motorists and pedestrians.
“The county’s current ordinance was created for the purpose of protecting vehicular and pedestrian safety, and the free flow of traffic. This purpose hasn’t changed,” Moore said.
However, he added, the county’s current ordinance “makes it unlawful to solicit or attempt to solicit with the intent to receive a charitable donation.”
Because of that, the ordinance is often referred to as the county’s panhandling ordinance, he said.
“As far as enforcement goes, historically, direct citations haven’t always been effective, which causes the sheriff’s office, in an attempt to enforce the ordinance, to utilize the county’s public roadway, public right of way, trespassing ordinance,” he said.
“However, due to recent case law, the sheriff’s office has decided not to enforce or utilize the ordinance, in order to trespass someone, moving forward.
“In fact, that’s kind of across-the-board in the state of Florida. Law enforcement agencies across the state are deciding not to enforce many panhandling ordinances in different counties,” Moore explained.
So, he said, “this discussion is something that many other jurisdictions are also struggling with.
“The reason why this new case has caused this result is because it points out the infringement on First Amendment rights, specifically related to free speech, as to requesting charitable donations and so on, in public roadways.”
The ordinance recently adopted in Lee County essentially eliminated the solicitation aspect, Moore said.
“It has the same exact purpose of our current ordinance,” Moore said.
But, it eliminates the concerns over the First Amendment because it “eliminates any mention of solicitation or panhandling, as a basis of the violation.
“It creates a violation for remaining in a median or other areas of the roadway,” Moore said.
“It is unlawful” to remain in a median, whether the area is paved or not paved, if it less than 6 feet, unless you are actively crossing in a crosswalk.
It also is unlawful in Lee County “to have a physical exchange, or physical interaction, amongst a pedestrian and a vehicle.
“It specifically notes a vehicle that’s not lawfully parked. In other words, in a roadway at an intersection, stopped at a red light, stopped at a stop sign.
“It removes any contemplation on the enforcement side, whether it’s the sheriff’s office or code enforcement, of trying to determine what the intent of the message is that the person is trying to relay. It simply says this is a violation. There is no physical interaction between a pedestrian and a vehicle.”
Commissioners Mike Moore, Kathryn Starkey and Jack Mariano all spoke in favor of the ordinance, noting panhandlers pose a danger to motorists and to themselves.
Commissioner Moore said when he came on the board in 2014, it was a problem, but lessened for a time and now seems to be on the uptick, as word gets out that enforcement isn’t happening.
Starkey noted: “I’ll drive around Holiday, which I do regularly. They’re at every intersection and it’s dangerous because they’re walking down between the cars. Who wants to hit someone walking down the street? It’s unsafe for our citizens.”
Mariano added: “This has been a very sore subject in the Hudson area. Probably the No. 1 complaint, I get is all of the panhandling.”
The Lee County ordinance appears to be an excellent approach, Mariano said.
“It addresses stopping, standing or otherwise occupying a median that is not sufficient pedestrian refuge.”
And, it seeks to get people to understand “they are in violation, if they give,” Mariano said.
“Those two things will help us tremendously.
Mariano also noted: “I can’t think of a more important thing for code enforcement to do than to attack this issue, at least in the Hudson area. It may deter this behavior from going on.”
Starkey made a motion for the county’s legal team to draft an ordinance that incorporates Lee County’s approach, to advertise it for public hearing and to bring it back for board action.
Published November 03, 2021
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