Commissioners vote to end panhandling on Sarasota roads

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SARASOTA, Fla. – At a special meeting Tuesday, city leaders discussed panhandling and voted on a measure they hope will put an end to people soliciting funds on the roadways.

"We need to send a message to the community; not just to all of you who perhaps live here, but to everybody all over the country and all over the world," said Sarasota mayor Suzanne Atwell.

And that message is that panhandling in the city of Sarasota needs to stop. “Well it was more than an annoyance, or nuisance, it was again, the concern for the safety of both the individuals on the street panhandling, and also the driver’s safety," says vice-mayor Willie Shaw.

And with that concern in mind, city officials voted 4-1 to enact a panhandle ordinance.

But not everyone is happy about it. "We think the ordinance does a lot more than prohibit standing in the median or in the street. The ordinance actually bans conduct on sidewalks, so we have problem with that. We don't believe that's constitutional," says Michael Barfield with the ACLU.

The new law prevents panhandlers from interacting with drivers. And that interaction doesn't have to be verbal, because there is a clause in the ordinance that says anyone with the intent to panhandle can be cited.

“Its’ not content neutral; it attempts to ban certain messages and certain speakers unequally. And we think the law requires the city to treat everyone fairly," says Barfield.

There is also a clause in the new law that allows fundraiser and business advertisements to be along the road ways. That’s another issue that is causing some concern.

“The guy standing up on Hillview and 41…twirling a sign and dancing to something on his boom box…that’s a lot more distracting to a driver. So what is good for one is good for all," says Gordon Hornikel, Jr.

The ordinance will go into effect April 29th.