NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners on Tuesday approved a measure that cracks down on panhandlers but still allows hawkers to sell Sunday newspapers.
The compromise ordinance, passed by a unanimous vote, bans all solicitation on major county roads. The ban includes panhandlers, charities and newspaper vendors. But commissioners included a Sunday exception so newspaper vendors don't lose their jobs.
"With social media today and the distractions of drivers, I think we're trying to look out for the safety of citizens," said Commissioner Ted Schrader.
The ordinance doesn't prevent people from holding signs or passing out fliers — as long as they don't ask drivers for money.
The move comes after high-profile votes by St. Petersburg and Tampa to restrict panhandling. New Port Richey also passed an ordinance that cracks down on persistent panhandlers. As a result, unincorporated Pasco residents say they've seen more homeless people begging for change on roadways.
"It really is a crisis for our neighborhood and I think our county," said John Coyne of Holiday. "We have the misfortune of being the last place they can come."
But others warned that the proposal does nothing to improve the lives of homeless people.
"We do not find it to be addressing the situation of the homeless population," said Devon Dougherty, an assistant pastor at Victorious Life Church in Wesley Chapel. Commissioners, he said, are only "sweeping the problem under the rug."
Added Wendi Burress, a woman who sells soda and bottled water on roadsides: "How can this commission tell me where I can work, or beg?"
"Let these people support and feed and clothe their babies," she said.
The new ordinance will prohibit charities such as firefighters or the Knights of Columbus from collecting money on roads — except on Sundays.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri acknowledged that concern, but she said, "if you're going to take a stand, you have to take a stand."
Greg Thomas, a lawyer for the Tampa Tribune, called the ordinance a "perfect accommodation" that allows the company to continue employing 115 hawkers.
The ordinance does contain a clause saying if the Sunday-only exception is challenged, the rest of the ban would stay in place. The county has 10 days to submit the ordinance to the Department of State, at which point the measure takes effect.