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New Sarasota law bans roadway panhandling

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

The sight of sign-holding solicitors at intersections around the City of Sarasota should soon come to an end after City Commissioners voted 4 to 1 on Monday to approve a new law that will prohibit any and all transactions between pedestrians and those in cars as a safety issue.

The new law will end all driver-pedestrian transactions along major City roadways including panhandling, passive acceptance of a dollar or gift, firefighter boot drives and any other behavior entailing a transaction between a vehicle occupant and a pedestrian.

It is based on principles that have withstood legal challenges in federal courts according to City Attorney Bob Fournier. Fournier pointed out that it does not apply to any specific group, although the intent for the Commission is to stop roadway panhandling.

Fournier asked that the ordinance be put into effect starting April 29 to allow time for Sarasota City Police to acclimate and integrate the new rules into their procedures.

The American Civil Liberties Union questioned the constitutionality of the new rule at Monday’s meeting, saying the measure is “too broad.”

But Fournier told commissioners the ordinance is similar to St. Petersburg’s, which has withstood legal challenge.

Residents and business owners clearly wanted a law in effect and expressed that they wanted one sooner rather than later at Monday’s meeting. They specifically spoke of the urgent need for a solicitation ordinance.

On the other side of the issue sat paralegal Michael Barfield, the legal chair of the Sarasota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He said the new rule is “unconstitutional.”

“I’m reconciled to the notion I don’t think the ACLU is going to say it’s totally happy with anything the city would do,” Fournier said.

Barfield told commissioners the ordinance will result in discriminatory enforcement and that traffic safety is not a compelling reason to restrict First Amendment rights.

Fournier did make some revisions to the law after talking with Barfield, including limiting the ban to certain major streets based on traffic volume as to not forbid the neighborhood “lemonade stand.”

The law also will allow advertisers — not people soliciting or distributing anything to drivers — to hold signs or jump around in colorful outfits on a median to attract attention to their goods or services.

The City Attorney characterized the measure as a legal first step and an effort to get something in place. The majority of the board agreed with Mayor Suzanne Atwell, along with Commissioners Terry Turner, Willie Shaw and Paul Caragiulo voting to approve the ordinance, and Commissioner Shannon Snyder voting “No.”

Snyder said he voted against the measure because he felt the new law left too many questions unresolved and was not ready and wished the attorney would work further on the ordinance.

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6 Responses for “New Sarasota law bans roadway panhandling”

  1. John Wild says:

    So, from reading this, the Commission in Sarasota can address protecting the homeless from themselves as “a safety issue”. Certainly a sobriety impaired citizen needs government action to save themselves from an itinerant Mercedes or BMW coming off the Ringling Bridge. Passed 4-1 when it came up (finally) last week.

    Fast forward to Longboat Key, where Planning and Zoning Board Charperson B.J.Webb called for adequate cell phone coverage in certain zoos where nobody could call out as “a safety issue”. She further commented, at a recent meeting on the town’s telecommunications ordinance, that due to the lack of coverage, she or any other tax paying resident riding their bicycle (or for that matter a tax paying tourist crossing 789) were left with a dead coverage zone without a means to reach out for emergency responder help.

    A majority of 4 (of 5) Sarasota elected officials saw public safety a sufficient cause for action. Will a Longboat Commissioner, or at least four of them, consider BJ’s life as important as an unemployed panhandler? I should hope so – what good is a cell phone without cell coverage when an emergency in that dead zone happens the next time. Delay, delay, delay, and ultimately defeat is not good public policy. Sometimes political courage is called for, and this may be one of those times.

  2. Mike Heller says:

    John you need to go out and get yourself a Verizon phone. They work great all over the island!

  3. Thomas Fortune Ryan says:

    Are “they” transients or bums?
    Are “they” of the time from Shakespeare “if you prick us do we not bleed”?
    Are “they” the designed neglect from Viet Nam?
    Are “they” of lesser value then the affluent residents of a tenuous sandbar?

    Are “they” not the product of our Nation which “we” created from greed?
    Are “they” not entitled (Liberal Progressive Speak) to a glass of beer?

    When “you” pass laws be ready to enforce them as you did on the Bonus Marchers!

    Personally, “…I find No Fault in this man…”.

  4. William Kary says:

    Mike, we have Verizon and if you are standing in the “right” spot they work great, but here on the North End, (General Harris) move 5 feet and you lose your signal in some cases. The irony of the situation is on a clear sunny day, reception is just unacceptable. Let the clouds roll in and reception improves. It just makes no sense.

  5. Ghostrider says:

    “It is based on principles that have withstood legal challenges

    NO

    in federal courts

    NO

    according to City Attorney Bob Fournier.”

    Yes

  6. Christopher B says:

    William is right! In fact Verizon is rubbish at the north end of the island – we’ve had to resort to WiFi-based Google Voice. It does however have the merit of being free.

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