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St. Petersburg's new vendor rules go too far

It will be illegal now in St. Petersburg for a vendor to sell a newspaper to passing traffic on a public corner.

Also it will be illegal for firefighters to hold a "fill the boot" drive for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Oh, and it will be illegal for panhandlers to stand on corners begging for money.

The third of these activities, of course, is the reason for banning the other two.

The other two are "collateral damage" in the War On Bums.

Now, I saw one of those anonymous blog comments jeering that the liberal, no-good newspaper is opposed to this law because it "just wants to sell newspapers."

And I am thinkin':

Duh!

Yes.

I do, anyway. A whole lot of them. The more newspapers sold, the better off we all are.

Maybe some street buyers only want the comics for the beach. Maybe some just want the ads.

But I'd like to think that a couple of 'em accidentally read something now and then about what the government is up to, and get mad.

(Like, say, the City Council holding cozy sessions with billboard companies, or budget meetings without all the usual notifications to the public.)

(Or the mayor rushing out at night to catch a police raid on a "bikini club," because it is, you know, essential for the mayor to be on hand for such things, to cluck his tongue at how disgusting it all is.)

Frankly, I'm still a little surprised at the notion of an American city outlawing the selling of newspapers on American public streets.

That is pretty much how the joint got started, you know. Guys who didn't like the king printed up their gripes and started handing them out.

No newspapers on the public streets?

No MDA charity drives, either?

Jerry Lewis, c'est dommage!

But by golly, politicians can still use the public street corners for their campaigns — they made sure to include that loophole for themselves.

In other words, the City Council will actually put people out of work, saving the corners for its own political use. Nice.

Ah, well. It is time for the lawyer talk.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of (a) religion (b) speech (c) press (d) assembly and (e) the right to petition the government.

The government cannot take away these First Amendment freedoms from the citizens easily. There must be a demonstrated, compelling state interest, which cannot be solved in any other way.

Neither can it be done on a whim, or just because the government thinks some people are especially icky.

In this case, the St. Petersburg City Council's motive is crystal clear: It does not like bums on street corners.

I don't like 'em either.

But the city is trying, without evidence, to hide behind a "public safety" claim, and is willing to trample every other consideration, cause or right.

The majority of public opinion, I am sure, is for the government because it is Cracking Down on Bums.

But in truth, the government is taking far more power than that. I would not be so quick to cheer another step down this authoritarian road.

First BayWalk, now the rest of the city. More control. Less freedom. A list of government-banned activities.

Do you think that they will never tell you what you can't do, because you are one of the Decent People?

St. Petersburg's new vendor rules go too far 06/07/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 7, 2010 6:55pm]
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