Hillsborough County Commissioners want to eliminate panhandling on city and county streets

Commissioner Jim Norman discouraged Sharpe from having too many workshops on the issue, saying that the county should just try to adopt what St. Pete has recently done. And he also said he wanted to carve out an exception to allow firefighters and Shriners to continue to be able to solicit.

Cameron Clark with the County's legal department said that Hillsborough's current law does not allow for any exceptions.  Commissioner Ken Hagan said he understood that St. Pete's law also doesn't allow for exceptions, which county attorney Renee Lee agreed, saying the county could then be vulnerable if they crafted such an ordinance on free speech and first amendment grounds.

Then Commissioner Rose Ferlita, agreeing that the county could not on its own choose to allow certain groups to solicit but not others, then suggested that the county could "partner" with firefighters and the Shriners to encourage charitable contributions to those groups, so that they would not feel the adverse affects of being denied the opportunity to solicit.  But she agreed with Sharpe that "somebody's going to get hurt" if local government doesn't intercede soon for those solicitations that occur at street corners, and also actually on the streets, as a newspaper hawker will sometimes walk into the street to distribute the paper and receive compensation.

Both Ferlita and Commissioner Kevin Beckner both alluded to the fact that the county was in serious discussions last fall about providing a new camp for the homeless (called a "Tent City") that ultimately went nowhere, and that they haven't had such discussions since.

Throughout Tampa and other parts of Hillsborough Counties, motorists over the past year (especially on Sunday) have been confronted by eager newspaper salesmen or women, hawking copies of the Tampa Tribune and/or the St. Pete Times for purchase.  In Tampa, they now wear brightly colored orange vests, as per the law.

Earlier this summer, St. Petersburg's City Council passed a new law on street solicitation, banning panhandlers, charity fundraisers and street vendors from soliciting on city streets.  Shortly afterwards, the law survived a legal challenge brought by the Times.  There have been reports that since then, some panhandlers have left St. Pete to solicit in Tampa.

Now Hillsborough County Commissioners say they want to pass a similar law.  Wednesday morning, the board voted 7-0 to have County Administrator Mike Merrill come back soon with such a proposal, that was initiated by Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who said the issue of the homeless or newspaper vendors was getting worse, and said it was now a public safety issue that needs to be addressed.

Sharpe suggested that the county work with Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, the three cities inside the county with their own governments, about a comprehensive plan.  He also said that he wanted to work with the Homeless Coalition, to insure that the ordinance wouldn't appear to be punitive towards the homeless.

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