TAMPA — Residents will soon be sipping beer during events and carrying concealed weapons in Hillsborough County parks.
The new park rules, which also require helmets for horseback riders younger than age 15, were approved unanimously Wednesday by county commissioners. They should take effect by the end of the week.
The same ordinance also exempts bicycle riders from the 15 mph speed limit in parks and creates a $30 fine for not paying entrance or boat ramp fees.
The new rule lets park visitors possess concealed weapons or keep them in vehicles. It also creates a process that allows alcohol to be sold and consumed, but only during special events that are permitted. The changes were made to update a 2008 parks ordinance, officials said.
In other business, commissioners discussed ways to deal with panhandlers.
A committee formed to analyze the issue met Sept. 2, interim County Administrator Mike Merrill said. The committee would like to meet with nonprofit and faith-based groups as well as other agencies that help the homeless. The committee meets again Oct. 22.
Tom Atchison, a pastor from New Beginnings of Tampa Church, said he works with many people who live on the streets.
"Panhandling is enabling these people. It's increasing the homeless problem," he said.
Commissioners were looking for quick action.
"This problem has become intolerable," Ken Hagan said. "Come back with something enforceable immediately."
Kevin White said on a recent drive he saw panhandlers staking out many different road medians in the area.
Hillsborough County already has a law banning panhandling within 4 feet of any road. Commissioners want to see if Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City would adopt a similar law.
The push comes months after St. Petersburg adopted strict measures banning solicitation along major roads. Police began making arrests after they went into effect June 13. In addition to panhandlers, St. Petersburg's law applies to people selling newspapers and raising money.
In Tampa, solicitors can panhandle as long as they wear brightly colored safety vests and don't impede traffic.
County Attorney Renee Lee said a more restrictive ordinance should not limit free speech or restrict the activities of newspaper hawkers or those raising money for charity.
"We should be sensitive to the vendors out there," Lee said.
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or [email protected]