Manatee County bans panhandling

03/28/07 Brandon Martin
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The Manatee County Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance that prohibits panhandling near roadways. The vote last night came after months of study on the issue and debate over the writing of the ordinance. Receiving a 5-0 vote, the ordinance prohibits so-called agressive panhandling that would thraten solicitees or block traffic. Panhandlers would have to stay at least 15 feet away from the road or as far as possible if a building or wall prevents that maximum distance.

Commissioner Ron Getman brought panhandling to the board's attention after hearing residents' complaints. Getman, who headed a study group for research and writing of the ordinance, cited public safety as the reason.

The ordinance would also outlaw charities or organizations from soliciting funds through car washes and other fundraisers that take place along streets. Regardless of the difficulty to legally differentiate soliciting by panhandlers and soliciting by charities, some of the commissioners still promote a permit system that would allow financial solicitation by charities on or near roadways. Legal experts would say that, besides the ordinance possibly being unconstitutional, a permit system for charities would favor the free speech of charities above the free speech of panhandlers.

Under the ordinance the first penalty is a 30-day warning period and, after that, 60 days in jail or a fine up to $500.

Advocates for the homeless, while stressing the difference between panhandling and homelessness, say that jailtime and fines do nothing to help the real problems of poverty and homelessness. The ordinance also does nothing to help those in need of alcohol and drug abuse treatment. However, according to the Bradenton Herald, Manatee County does have emergency housing, social services, and an open-door day resources center for the homeless.

 

For WMNF, this is Brandon Martin. 

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