Tampa City Council paves way for partial panhandling ban listen01/20/11 Kate Bradshaw
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For months, the Tampa City Council has avoided an official discussion of whether to ban panhandling along the city’s roads. Today, that changed. The council narrowly adopted an ordinance that, if made into law, would ban panhandling on Tampa’s busiest roads.
Supporters of a panhandling ban say it’s an issue of public safety. Opponents say it undermines the ability to raise money for groups ranging from the unemployed to nonprofits. Darren Tierney is circulation manager with the St. Petersburg Times, which hires contractors to sell the Sunday paper on city roads. He said during public comment that the proposed ordinance looks a lot like the one St. Petersburg adopted over the summer.
"What it did was take away the only opportunity that many had to make an honest living by selling newspapers. It added to the unemployment rate. It made a tough time even tougher for some. It didn't solve their homeless issue."
Sonia Long is one of those contractors.
"I'm a taxpayer, too. As everyone knows I'm a college graduate, and I just want to know if you all come and allow this ordinance to pass today. ...I have a daughter that will be 14 years on next Tuesday. What ... what am I to tell her? She's already ashamed that I'm out there on Sundays, but she's been able to deal with it. I have a daughter who just turned 11 in the month of December and thank God you didn't ban us then because I was able to provide Christmas presents. But I want you to tell me who's going to pay my TECO bill? Who's going to take care of my water bill next week?"
The Muscular Dystrophy Association is a nonprofit that relies on boot drives for donations. These involve local firefighters collecting money at intersections. Paula Orandash is a health care service coordinator with that organization. She said the boot drive raises funds for clinical services for muscular dystrophy patients at St. Joseph’s hospital, and can pull in $130,000 a year. She said that’s enough to help over 400 families.
"In today's economy families are looking towards charities and social service organizations for more help and that's why we are so passionate about our firefighters being out on the street helping with their boot drives."
The council is also divided on the issue of homeless and other individuals asking for money by the side of the road. Council member Mary Mulhern has been opposed to a citywide ban. She has said the current economy is driving more and more people to panhandling.
"We don't want to tell people that they cannot ask for help. The only way that we're going to be able to do that is if we're convinced that this is really a public safety hazard on the roadways."
Tampa assistant police Chief John Bennett told the council he strongly supports the ban because it’s preventative.
"When I gave the crash theater I have to use an analogy in our crime reduction plan. Over the last 8 years we're defending 1900 crimes every month of what used to be here 8 years ago. That takes a lot of preventative work. It's the same philosophy that we bring to anything that we look at is a prevention mind, not a reactive one. Our concern is is that we're handling 3 calls a day in the intersections and we're making an arrest a day, that is increasing the risk and whatever we gauge our risk meter on, whether it's by road or time of day or anything else, anything from zero up is increasing that risk and opportunity."
The council opted for an ordinance that would ban panhandling on arterial roads throughout Tampa. City attorney Chip Fletcher.
"Basically the arterials are the largest roadways within the city so Dale Marbry, Hillsborough, Fletcher, Fowler, Gandy, those larger roads with the high rate of travel, high volume of traffic, and often have the medians as well that we've had as issues."
Council member Joe Caetano was not impressed. He said he wants a citywide ban that would apply to all roads.
"I could identify 6 spots. One on Cross Creek, another one on New Tampa Blvd., one at Grand Hampton off of Countyline Road, another one at Palm Lake which goes into Commerce Park Boulevard. You're going to have somebody standing at the exit of a Publix or the entrance of a Publix soliciting. I want a total ban."
Fletcher said that banning roadside soliciting on an ad hoc basis wouldn’t fly for a number of reasons, including the First Amendment.
"Because of this free speech issue involved here we can't just pick certain roads and..."
"But we're doing that."
"No, what is before you is a recommendation to ban street solicitation on those roadways that meet certain technical standards. By definition we're calling them arterial roads and those are roads that meet certain designs and functional standards. What we can't do is then say what well we want the high volume roads and in addition to that we want these other roads that don't meet that standard."
The council approved the ordinance four-to-three, with council members Caetano, Charlie Miranda, and Yvonne Capin dissenting. The ordinance’s second reading takes place Thursday, February 3. If approved, it would be adopted into law. The public will be allowed to speak before the council votes.