Tampa about to crack down harder on those busted with prostitutes

Seminole Heights resident Susan Long said prostitution activity had quieted down in her neighborhood, but has recently resurfaced. She complained of finding syringes and used condoms on her street, and disputed the contention that prostitution is a victimless crime.

Kate Bailey said those who frequent prostitutes had no respect for the people who live in the community where such activities take place. She said that women are unable to walk in the neighborhood without being solicited by johns.

A couple of Council members who ultimately supported the proposal said they had been informed by Police Chief Jane Castor that the funds generated from impound penalties would go to a dedicated police trust fund. But City Attorney Kirby Rainsberger said that would not be the case, with the funds instead being directed into the general fund.

A proposal by Council member Frank Reddick to direct that toward a trust fund was defeated.

When it came to the ordinance itself, Councilwoman Mary Mulhern was the only member to dissent. She expressed concerns that the impounding of a vehicle could have a severe effect on an innocent spouse, and said it didn't sound like due process.

Council member Lisa Montelione did support the measure, but also raised concerns about notification.

Rainsberger said that under law, only those who are listed as owners of the car would receive notification, via a citation and by certified mail. Montelione worried that people who aren't listed as registered owners of such a car would be left in the lurch, potentially affecting their transportation to work or school.

Rainsberger said he understood those concerns, but said that those who aren't listed on the title of the car have no legal standing, meaning that if they came to City Hall with $500, they would not be allowed to pick up the car — that only the owner or owners could do so.

Tampa previously had such a law, but Council repealed it after other courts in Florida ruled such ordinances Illegal because they didn't provide adequate notice to owners and lacked due process. City officials maintain the new ordinance will past constitutional muster.

The issue will come back for a second hearing on December 15. If it passes then, Tampa Police officials said the law would go into effect immediately.

The Tampa City Council today voted on an ordinance that would allow the city to temporarily impound vehicles used by those soliciting street prostitution. The measure passed 6-1 on first hearing.

Those charged under the impound law would be required to pay a $500 penalty to get their vehicles out of a lot. Defendants would have the ability to challenge the impound charges before a county circuit court judge. If a court hearing isn't scheduled within five business days, the vehicle would be released to its owner, with no penalty charged.

The effort was pushed by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who made a reputation for himself as a City Council member in the late 1990s for demanding tough laws on morality.

He had a lot of supporters today as the issue came before the Council. Residents in the V.M. Ybor area, weary of prostitutes doing their thing on Nebraska Avenue, strongly encouraged the Council to support the measure.

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