City leaders agree on new solicitation ordinance

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SARASOTA-- The City of Sarasota has moved forward with putting in place a new solicitation ordinance. It replaces an existing ordinance that was repealed last year.

On Monday night, Commissioners approved the new ordinance 5-0. Leaders still need to approve it again during a second reading next week. The ordinance will prohibit solicitation of any kind in the roadway that involves an exchange between a pedestrian and motorist. That means the handing out of money, food, brochures and other items will not be allowed.

"I think this will be a big relief for people and it will make the roads and streets safer," said Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin.

Since the city's previous ordinance was repealed, members of the area's homeless population have shown up in full force, holding signs and asking motorists for money on city medians and sidewalks.

"Just judging from the feedback we are receiving from the community, it is essential to pass some ordinance like this," said Barwin.

Barwin says the ordinance is similar to others initiated by municipalities around the state. Still, it's likely, the ACLU will in someway challenge the ordinance.

"We think the new law would be applied to a lot of activity protected by the 1st Amendment," said ACLU Legal Panel Chairman, Michael Barfield. "We are not happy with these nuisance type ordinances that are directed toward the people who have no means and that the majority, or status quo, want to disperse out of the community."

If approved during the second reading, the ordinance will be enforced in the upcoming weeks. A violator could face a fine of up to $500 and up to two months behind bars.