TAMPA — The Tampa City Council now must decide whether Pasco County or Jacksonville provides the best model for handling the troublesome issue of panhandling.
If it's Pasco, the council would probably ban panhandling except for certain hours on Sundays. If members opt for the Jacksonville model, they would eliminate most panhandling but allow newspaper sales to continue.
Discussing the issue during a Thursday workshop, council members seemed to agree that they wanted to protect newspaper companies while limiting street begging. But they wanted to give city attorneys more time to weigh in on the two options and draft ordinance language.
Council member Lisa Montelione initially pushed for a complete ban.
"Newspaper sales are very important, but there are other ways than in the middle of the street in a median that is 15 inches wide to sell newspapers," she said.
Council member Frank Reddick pushed for flexibility that not only would allow the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times to continue Sunday paper sales, but also protect the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, an African-American newspaper sold on Tuesdays and Fridays.
With high foreclosure and unemployment rates, Reddick said, the council shouldn't approve a measure that puts dozens of newspaper hawkers out of work.
"We're sitting here wanting to deny individuals (the opportunity) to earn a few dollars to feed their family or put food on the table," he said.
Representatives from all three newspapers attended the meeting and spoke against a full panhandling ban.
The Jacksonville plan is essentially a two-pronged approach. First, the council would repeal its current law and allow Hillsborough County's panhandling ban to cover the city. Then a new ordinance that allows newspaper sales would be adopted.
The Jacksonville City Council enacted similar legislation in 2004 at the urging of the Florida Times-Union newspaper after a crackdown on panhandling there eliminated hawkers.
Montelione and council member Yvonne Yolie Capin both voted against supporting the introduction of a Jacksonville-modeled proposal. The Pasco County option received unanimous support from the council.
Pasco County commissioners have given initial approval to an ordinance banning panhandling and solicitation on the medians and sidewalks of major county roads. The only exception is daytime hours on Sundays, allowing newspaper sellers, charities and other peddlers to take to the streets then.
Like the Pasco proposal, the Tampa legislation would be written in a way that allows the Sunday exemption to be lifted if a court rules it is unconstitutional.
Both proposals will be introduced at the Aug. 4 council meeting for discussion. Members will decide then which option to introduce as an official plan.
City administrators also will provide information about funding for the homeless and the availability of federal dollars.
Sara Romeo, executive director of Tampa Crossroads, a non-profit treatment agency, spoke during the public hearing in opposition to a panhandling ban. After the meeting, she said the council seemed to be protecting newspapers while neglecting to put real effort into addressing the root causes of panhandling.
If a ban is approved, she said, there aren't any programs in place for people who would no longer be allowed to beg for money to help pay their bills.
"Where do you think they're going?" Romeo asked. "There is not process of thought ahead of this ordinance. Like, now what?"
Tia Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3405.