New Sarasota law bans roadway panhandling
Editor & Publisher
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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