By Kyle LoJacono
The Pasco Commission approved a preliminary law on June 7 to ban all panhandling within the county on all days except Sundays.
The ordinance bans any form of panhandling in unincorporated Pasco on all county and state roadways, which includes selling anything or asking for donations. The one-day exception was mainly given because of the large volume of newspapers that are sold on Sundays.
Representatives from The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times argued the outright ban would have cost nearly 200 people their part-time jobs selling newspapers while walking on the medians of the roadways.
Those representatives showed the commissioners the traffic volume is significantly lower on Sundays, as much as 55 percent of the typical levels during the week. The ban has been framed as a safety issue, so the statistics helped push the board toward the concession.
Assistant county attorney Kristi Wooden said the numbers presented are accurate and gave the commissioners assurances that groups would be unlikely to challenge the legality of passing the ban with the Sunday exception based on safety. Wooden added accidents involving pedestrians are 31 percent less likely on a Sunday.
“We heard from people who sell the papers on Sunday that they depend on the money to keep their homes,” said Pasco Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand.
Hildebrand said she regularly buys a Sunday newspaper from roadside vendors.
The ordinance states anyone selling anything on the roadside must be at least 18 years old and is required to have photo identification while wearing reflective vests. Nonprofit groups would be required to register with the state before soliciting donations.
While the daily newspapers were satisfied with the concession, those most in need are devastated.
Wendi Burruss was at the commissioners meeting when the ordinance was passed and said she supplements her income by selling bottled water on the roadside. She said the extra money she earns has allowed her to stay off the street.
“Sir, ma’am, in God’s name, give (the homeless) some way to earn a living, or they will starve,” Burruss said.
The ban does not apply to Pasco’s five cities, Zephyrhills, Dade City, San Antonio, Port Richey and New Port Richey. Those city councils have the authority to pass their own panhandling policy.
New Port Richey already banned panhandling in May. That 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.”
Zephyrhills City Manager Jim Drumm and Dade City City Manger William Poe Jr. said they expect to discuss a possible ban later this summer.
To the south, Hillsborough County and the city of St. Petersburg have passed outright bans without the Sunday exception. 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 Aug. 4 meeting.
The Florida Legislature also considered an outright ban of some types of panhandling throughout the state, but a decision was not reached before the recent recess.
The issue has taken center stage as the down economy forces more people out of their homes on onto the streets. Hildebrand admitted the ban has a lot to do with the image panhandling creates for the county.
Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing for July 26 at the West Pasco Government Center, 7530 Little Road in New Port Richey, before the final adoption of the ordinance.