Petition drive to hold referendum on panhandling ban falls short
TAMPA — A petition drive to schedule a citywide referendum on whether to ban roadside panhandling has fallen short of the 18,000 signatures that organizers needed, the drive's leader said Monday morning.
Spencer Kass said he could not say how many signed petitions he received, but "we have a box filled with them. We'll be bringing them down to City Council at their Jan. 6 meeting."
"I think if we would have been given more time, we really would have reached our goal," said Kass, the president of the Virginia Park Neighborhood Association in South Tampa. As more people learned of the petition, he said, interest picked up.
But organizers had only a little more than two weeks to gather the required number of signatures from the time that local officials approved the form of the petitions to first thing Monday morning, when Kass would have had to submit them to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office to be counted and verified.
To put the referendum on the city's March 1 ballot, organizers need signatures from registered Tampa voters equal to at least 10 percent of the people registered to vote in the 2007 city election. That's nearly 18,000 signatures.
The question of what to do about roadside panhandling has simmered for months, ever since St. Petersburg voted in June to ban motorist-to-pedestrian transactions, including panhandling, newspaper sales and charity solicitations, along its major roads. Since then, other communities, including Tampa, have reported seeing an increase in the number of men and women standing on medians seeking handouts.
Despite calls from neighborhood groups, the Tampa City Council declined in October and again this month to ban panhandling or schedule the kind of referendum that Kass sought. Other than Council member Joseph Caetano, who supported scheduling a referendum, council members said they had concerns about the impact on the unemployed, the cost of enforcement, how a ban could be defended legally and whether such a ban would affect charitable groups and firefighters who seek donations from motorists for good causes.
Council chairman Thomas Scott said the city is working on an ordinance to bad panhandling on major city arterials.
Despite falling short, Kass vowed to stay on the issue, and predicted that council members would have no choice but to take action sooner or later.
"I can promise you, it is going to be a major issue come election time," he said.