Pasco County commissioners have approved a ban aimed at preventing street-corner panhandling in the county.
That action came despite pleas from those who had been selling newspapers in the county on Sundays.
By adopting a total ban, the county would cost workers’ wages and jobs, opponents said.
“I’m begging you, please understand you are affecting so many people,” said Renee Contreras, who oversees workers who sell newspapers on Sundays in the Wesley Chapel area.
Commissioners were unmoved, and on April 26 unanimously approved the total ban.
The ordinance is similar to ones in Hillsborough County and the City of St. Petersburg.
It bans “soliciting or attempts to solicit employment, business, contributions, donations, or sales or exchanges, of any kind from the driver or an occupant of a motor vehicle, or distributing or attempting to distribute any goods or materials to the driver or an occupant” of the motor vehicle.
Data presented to commissioners reported 173 pedestrian-related crashes in 2015, with 13 fatalities. The highest volume of fatal crashes happened on Saturday and Sunday, and occurred more often in daylight than evening.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco also said that people were taking advantage of the Sunday exception to the ordinance.
“They are switching over from selling newspapers to panhandling,” he said. “By afternoon, they switch out signs. It goes back to — there is a public safety issue.”
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells brought up the issue in March after hearing about a veteran who was killed while selling newspapers along U.S. 19.
Commissioners then directed staff members to draft the new ordinance.
“It’s an unsafe practice for all involved,” Wells said, adding that he believes Pasco does everything possible to help residents in need.
While Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano sympathized with those selling newspapers, he said, “It’s just not working out. It’s unfortunate we have to take this strong step.”
Hugh Townsend, of the Hunter’s Ridge homeowners’ association, said panhandling “is of grave concern.”
Residents have dealt with litter, broken lights around the community’s monument sign and destruction to landscaping.
“I’d rather see them set up in a parking lot,” Townsend said.
From his wheelchair, Clifton Levigne told commissioners that he and others need the money they earn from selling Sunday newspapers.
“We have to count on selling newspapers, or else we can’t have enough to get through the week,” he said. “We’re not panhandlers.”
Contreras said the ordinance would hurt people trying to work for a living, but probably won’t stop panhandling.
“They (panhandlers) just cost us all our jobs,” she said.
Published on May 4, 2016