NEW PORT RICHEY — City officials are moving closer to adopting a new ordinance seeking to combat aggressive panhandling that the police chief says is on the rise.
At the request of Chief Jeffrey Harrington, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a first reading of the proposed ordinance, and the board is poised to approve it in two weeks. The vote included the first cast by incoming Mayor Bob Consalvo, who was sworn in before the meeting.
The proposed ordinance is modeled after Tampa's law, according to New Port Richey City Attorney Michael Davis.
"We believe it's legal and enforceable," he said.
If approved May 3, the new law will take on "threatening, intimidating, or harassing behavior for the purpose of solicitation," the proposed ordinance reads.
That boils down to no means no when it comes to asking for money on the street. The ordinance would ban anyone from continuing to beg for money after getting a "negative response to an initial demand."
The ordinance would also ban blocking the passage of anyone on foot, bicycle, wheelchair or motor vehicle while asking for money. While the ordinance is an effort to deal with panhandling in the city, it also applies to anyone seeking charitable contributions and salespeople.
For council member Ginny Miller, the ordinance's focus on combating aggression got her vote.
"It really pinpoints those who don't understand no," she said.
New Port Richey is one of many governments in the region grappling with panhandling in recent months.
The Tampa City Council approved a first reading of an ordinance that would have banned panhandling and sales on the city's medians, only to shoot it down at a second reading in February.
Tampa's debate became more heated after some said a similar panhandling ban in St. Petersburg that took effect last year had brought more homeless panhandlers north.
New Port Richey already has a measure on the books that bans panhandling "within any street, highway or road right-of-way," and within 200 feet of the center of any intersection in the city.
While the current and new proposed ordinances steer clear of the controversial measures to ban panhandling altogether, New Port Richey needs to deal with increasing aggression by panhandlers and solicitors in the city, Harrington said after Tuesday's meeting.
"It's happening a little bit more than we have seen in the past," he said.
Punishment for violating the new ordinance will likely start with citations, Harrington said, but details are still being worked out. Harrington promised an educational phase where the public will be informed on the new rules.