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Pasco looks at new rules to curb panhandling on roadways

A recent federal court ruling determined that regulating solicitations for donations was unconstitutional, forcing changes in the Pasco ordinance.
A Pasco County Sheriff's deputy (in car at left) tells two panhandlers that they must stop and leave the median where they were collecting money in Land O Lakes. The Pasco BOCC is considering outlawing panhandling at busy intersections in the county.
A Pasco County Sheriff's deputy (in car at left) tells two panhandlers that they must stop and leave the median where they were collecting money in Land O Lakes. The Pasco BOCC is considering outlawing panhandling at busy intersections in the county. [ Times (2011) ]
Published Oct. 26

NEW PORT RICHEY — People standing in the highway median with their hands out for help have been an ongoing pet peeve of Pasco residents and policy makers, and a frequent topic of discussion for the County Commission.

On Tuesday, Pasco commissioners gave an enthusiastic go ahead to draw up new rules to curb panhandling after the county’s previous ordinance had to be put in abeyance because of a federal court ruling.

The recent U.S. District Court ruling determined that regulating solicitations for donations was unconstitutional, directing enforcement agencies “to utilize other means to ensure traffic safety, such as, what is referred to as the state’s jaywalking statute,” wrote Patrick Moore, senior assistant county attorney in a memo.

Commissioners said they feared that the panhandling problem was growing, as it became clear the county had stopped enforcing the ordinance. Commissioner Jack Mariano said panhandling and the disruption it causes has been the biggest concern he hears about from constituents. “This has been a very sore subject in the Hudson area,” Mariano said, adding he recently heard of a man who brings his two children with him into the street to beg for money.

Pasco’s existing ordinance prohibited soliciting donations from motorists. So, to fix it while still avoiding the traffic issues that panhandling has caused, commissioners agreed with the county attorney’s recommendation to model their new ordinance after one in Lee County.

“Lee County’s ordinance does not directly regulate or prohibit solicitation/panhandling; rather, it prohibits individuals from remaining or standing in a public road or median and regulates actual physical interaction with occupants of vehicles regardless of the reason for the physical interaction,” Moore wrote in his memo.

Because Lee County’s rules don’t deal with solicitation or panhandling directly, which has been seen as a First Amendment right, Moore noted, it “is likely to better withstand a legal challenge.”

Pasco established its original ordinance in 2011, then expanded it to seven days a week in 2016 after a newspaper distributor was struck and killed on U.S. 19 while selling Sunday papers.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said that she sees panhandling up and down U.S. 19 at every intersection, and that the county will need to enforce whatever rule is approved. “We’re going to have to get tough for a little bit,” she said.

Commissioner Mike Moore said the message will also need to go to those who give to panhandlers, because that will also be prohibited under the new rules.

“We have to tell people that this is essentially illegal,” Moore said, “and you will be cited if you give money to these people.”