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Zephyrhills gives final approval to roadside solicitation ban

ZEPHYRHILLS — Pegging it as a safety issue, the city has banned all roadside solicitation on public right of way in Zephyrhills.

During a meeting Monday night, the Zephyrhills City Council unanimously passed on second reading an ordinance banning panhandlers, newspaper hawkers and charity drives from roadsides.

The council first began discussing the ordinance in May after Pasco County enacted a similar ban, which then-City Attorney Joseph Poblick thought could bring an influx of activity along Zephryhills' public medians.

While safety has been the focal point of discussions in the city, some panhandling ordinances have been challenged in courts as an attack on the First Amendment rights of the homeless. One such case delayed the second reading of the ordinance in Zephyrhills.

The second reading had been scheduled in August, but a federal judge deemed a panhandling ordinance in Tampa to be unconstitutional, stemming from a lawsuit filed by the charity Homeless Helping Homeless. The suit contended the ordinance infringed on the group's free speech, based on its mission to raise funds for the homeless, while it did not restrict other forms of solicitation, such as petition-signing.

On Monday, Zephyrhills' new city attorney, Matthew Maggard, told the council the ruling came just days before the second reading in Zephyrhills was to occur, so he delayed it to make sure the ordinance did not contain the same issues as the Tampa law.

Maggard said he found no problems with the Zephyrhills ordinance, as it is not based on content. Instead, it bans all roadside solicitation. He agreed with Poblick's earlier assessment that it amounts to a safety issue.

"I don't see any problems with this moving forward," Maggard said.