TAMPA — Hillsborough County's city leaders indicated Thursday that they want to work toward one consistent law that addresses panhandling.
What that law might say, no one knows yet.
"From the city of Tampa's viewpoint, we would be very happy to work out an ordinance that would be the same as with the county," city Chief of Staff Darrell Smith said.
Hillsborough County has a law banning solicitations within 4 feet of any road, but commissioners want to see if Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City would adopt the same law.
"As much as we could standardize, we'd be in support of that," Temple Terrace City Manager Kim Leinbach said.
The push comes just months after St. Petersburg adopted tough measures banning solicitation along major roads and 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.
"Everyone has a vest," City Council member Joseph Caetano said. "We need something else."
He plans to lobby the council to pass a stronger law this month, although he has failed once.
Law enforcement officials say they support the county's law. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Col. Greg Brown said 89 people have died on the county's roadways this year — though he didn't know if any of those killed included panhandlers. Last year, 62 people were arrested for roadside solicitation in unincorporated areas, he said.
But Temple Terrace police pointed out they make less than one arrest a year for such offenses. Plant City Mayor Rick Lott said he wanted to see statistics on whether widespread panhandling is an issue.
Rayme Nuckles, executive director of the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County, said yanking homeless people's only income was irresponsible. Among 42 panhandlers surveyed informally in August, 40 said soliciting was their only income.
Among that group, 34 people indicated that they had only panhandled in Tampa over the last three months. Only eight received help from aid services.
"We have failed as a community to meet the need of the homeless," Nuckles said.
The meeting Thursday ended with a call for more data and a presentation from St. Petersburg on its ordinance and effects. Hillsborough commissioners will be updated on the issue Sept. 22.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.