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Proposed panhandling ban bogs down at Tampa City Council

TAMPA — City Council Chairman Thomas Scott's proposal to take the first step toward banning panhandling on Tampa's busiest streets bogged down Thursday night.

Scott hoped to schedule a public hearing next week on a yet-to-be drafted ordinance banning panhandling on "arterial" roads such as Dale Mabry Highway, Kennedy Boulevard, and Hills­borough, Fowler and Fletcher avenues.

But Scott's colleagues balked. Some said the proposal didn't go far enough. Others said they have not received even basic information they ought to have before taking up such a measure. And several said the city should wait for the report of a countywide committee studying the issue.

They did ask City Attorney Chip Fletcher to come to their Jan. 20 meeting to report on and answer questions about the possibility of banning panhandling on arterial roads.

They also scheduled a Feb. 24 council workshop to discuss the larger issue of homelessness and unemployment with police, county officials, the Homeless Coalition, Metropolitan Ministries and other social service groups.

Thursday is not the first time the council has struggled to find consensus on panhandling. Three times since October, neighborhood groups have asked the council either to adopt a St. Petersburg-style ban on panhandling or give voters a chance to consider enacting such a ban in the city's March 1 elections.

As in the past, council member Charlie Miranda said proposals to ban panhandling are not looking at the bigger picture.

"We have no answer to how do we solve this problem," Miranda said. Driving panhandlers off major roads would send them into neighborhoods, he said. It also would hurt people who earn a living by selling newspapers on major streets, he said.

Most panhandlers don't vote, so "politically, I don't think I'm doing the right thing," Miranda said. "But in my own mind and my heart, I really believe that there's got to be an answer, and the answer should not be just, 'Ban.' "

Council member Mary Mulhern agreed.

"Really, there's a lot of pressure for us to do this," Mulhern said. "It would be a popular thing to do if we did it right now tonight. But, really, I think we're better than that. We take our job more seriously."

Scott, who is running for mayor, said that's not what's driving his efforts on the issue.

"I feel no pressure," Scott said. "I've been an elected official for 14 years. I don't vote on something because it's popular or not popular. I vote on my beliefs, my principles and my convictions."

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com.

Proposed panhandling ban bogs down at Tampa City Council 01/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 11:28pm]
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