TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission took another step Wednesday toward a ban on panhandling, but members expressed concern that a different proposal before the Tampa City Council today could undermine their efforts.
Commissioners voted to proceed with a proposal that would extend an existing panhandling ban to state roads, eliminating all solicitations in unincorporated areas.
But depending on what the City Council does, efforts to create a uniform countywide policy may be thwarted.
A county task force created to study the panhandling issue included Tampa members, but before the group issued its recommendations the City Council moved forward with a proposal that would only ban panhandling on major "arterial" roads.
If the council approves that ordinance revision, solicitations could continue on "collector" roads within city limits.
County Attorney Renee Lee said the desire for a uniform policy was expressed to Tampa officials, but not much else could be done.
"We can ask, but not demand, that they enact the same kind of ordinance that we have," she said. "They just have not wanted to do that."
The commission's task force, which included representatives from law enforcement and social service organizations, decided that panhandling was mainly a public safety issue that warrants stricter limitations.
At Wednesday's meeting, Commissioner Ken Hagan shared a photo an aide took with a cell phone camera. It shows a man in a wheelchair wearing a neon vest maneuvering between lanes of traffic.
Hillsborough sheriff's Col. Greg Brown said 11 people have been killed on roadways this year, compared to six at the same time last year. The 2010 total was 154 deaths.
He said one pedestrian who died was wearing a reflective vest and had a cardboard sign that is the calling card for panhandlers.
Roadway solicitors have caused accidents that increase the Sheriff's Office workload and create a distracting environment for drivers, Brown said.
"We are inundated with complaints at my office," he said. "This is a huge problem, and the roads were not designed for this."
A comprehensive ban would make enforcement easier on deputies, who currently have to figure out whether a panhandler is on a county or state road before determining out how to handle the situation, Brown said.
The County Commission's ban also would restrict newspaper sales and charitable solicitations. Commissioners have asked staff to create new ordinance language, and the next step would be to schedule a public hearing.
The task force also has been directed to continue studying the underlying issues of panhandling, such as joblessness and poverty. The group is looking to other cities as models.
Commissioner Sandra Murman and other county staffers have scheduled a tour of the Safe Harbor homeless shelter in Pinellas County.
Tia Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3405.