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Sarasota passes panhandling ordinance, lemonade stands saved

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SARASOTA COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

In a 4-1 vote, the Sarasota city commission passed a measure to curb panhandling in the city Tuesday afternoon. 

The new ordinance, which takes effect April 29, makes it illegal to solicit or distribute donations from specific public roads and medians throughout the city.

The city attorney said under the new ordinance, firefighters will no longer be able to hold 'Fill the Boot' campaigns in panhandling restricted areas. Newspapers will also no longer be able to be sold to drivers waiting at a stopped light.

The city attorney said changing the motion to restrict panhandling from certain roadways throughout the city does allow children to still hold lemonade stands in their neighborhood.

The mayor says this is a victory, but the ACLU said it could lead to another legal fight.    

For the past few months, panhandlers could be found at street corners throughout Sarasota, but city commissioners approved a new ordinance to put an end to that.

Starting Monday, a new city law will ban soliciting along most major roadways and intersections in the city.

Panhandling has been a contentious issue in the city for the past few months. In February, a circuit judge ordered the city to back off from panhandlers for 60 days while a new law was drafted. The 60 day injunction ended last week.

Mayor Suzanne Atwell said this is not a homeless problem, but a safety issue, since the solicitors can get in the way of cars.

Atwell said, "Not only the citizens of our city are being impacted by this, people from all over the country and all over the world are coming to our city and it's reached a critical mass of the panhandling issue that has held the city hostage."

"We think the ‘safety issue' is somewhat of a ruse," said Michael Barfield with the ACLU.

Barfield says the new ordinance could be challenged in federal court.

"We think it's flatly unconstitutional," said Barfield. "Laws have to be neutral and applied fairly and equal to everyone, and the law does not do that, the proposed law does not do that. It targets a particular type of message which the courts have said you cannot do."

The city attorney is confident this new ordinance is constitutional, and should make the roadways safer.

But Barfield thinks there are better ways to handle this panhandling issue- like providing more programs for homeless people.

This new ordinance will apply to most major roads and thoroughfares throughout the city.

Speakers at Tuesday's meeting also brought up the issue of panhandling on sidewalks.

The city attorney said that topic could be addressed next month.

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