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Tampa council gives final approval to six-day-a-week panhandling ban

TAMPA — Tampa City Council members Thursday passed three new ordinances that will outlaw begging on city streets every day but Sunday.

Once Mayor Bob Buckhorn signs the ordinances, which he is expected to do in the next day or so, they will take effect Nov. 1.

The city has wrestled with the problem of aggressive panhandling for more than a year, ever since St. Petersburg passed its own extensive ban that swept some panhandlers east to Tampa.

"They knock on my window, want to speak with my customers," cab driver Charles Smalling, 66, said. "I've seen them intimidating old ladies. This has got to stop."

But Donna Crider, 54, said the $20 to $25 a day she collects at West Shore Boulevard and Cypress Street is just "enough to survive on."

"Right now, I don't have any other means but to fly a sign," she said.

Council members passed the ban 4-1, with Mary Mulhern voting no and saying she believes "it is a beginning of criminalizing poverty." Charlie Miranda and Lisa Montelione were absent.

Tampa's new rules will ban most roadside solicitations six days a week. Newspaper hawkers can work medians every day, and panhandling and charity drives will be allowed on Sundays.

But the 10 most crash-prone intersections in the city will remain off limits to all sales and solicitations seven days a week.

City officials say people thinking of selling or raising money at curbside will be responsible for checking the police website for a list of the intersections with the most crashes in the past 90 days.

That could require regular, if not daily, checking because the list is updated every morning, and the top 10 changes.

For example, since the council's first vote, half the intersections that were on the list two weeks ago have dropped off. As of Thursday morning, the locations no longer on the list were Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fowler Avenue; Hillsborough and Himes avenues; Hillsborough at Interstate 275; Hillsborough and Armenia avenues and West Shore and Gandy boulevards.

Police say they will focus on education the first week after the ordinances go into effect, give out copies of the new rules and document their contacts with the people they've talked to about the ordinances.

After that, they will begin to enforce the ban. Like they are under other city ordinances, violations are punishable by everything from a warning to up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine.

Tampa's ban is less stringent than St. Petersburg's. There, the city last year banned all roadside solicitations on both major arterials and less busy collector roads. Pasco County's ban is similar, though it includes a Sunday exception for newspaper sales.

It's not clear whether Tampa's ban will face a legal challenge.

"It's something that the state and local chapters are definitely looking at," said John Dingfelder, the American Civil Liberties Union's senior staff attorney for mid-Florida. Case law says that when dealing with activities that have strong First Amendment overtones, such ordinances must be "content-neutral."

"Playing favorites to the newspaper vendors clearly raises some eyebrows," Dingfelder said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

.Fast facts

Off-limits areas

The city's 10 most crash-prone intersections will be off limits to any solicitation seven days a week. Officials say people will be responsible for checking the police website to know where those intersections are. Go to tampagov.net/dept_Police/information_resources, then click on "High Traffic Crash Locations."

Tampa council gives final approval to six-day-a-week panhandling ban 10/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2011 12:00am]
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