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Sarasota panhandling ban starts Monday

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Panhandling is now illegal in the city of Sarasota.

It's been a big issue in the city for months, and a new ordinance has taken effect that bans begging from street corners. 

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said if a panhandler is spotted, they will be warned then either ticketed or arrested.

It's a sight that's now hard to find- panhandlers on street corners.

Many of Sarasota's vagrant population have quickly vanished.

The reason? Starting Monday, police have started cracking down on panhandlers.

In February, a circuit judge ordered a 60 day injunction that prevented the city from interfering with the First Amendment rights of the homeless.

While the injunction was in place, city officials said panhandling became a serious issue. Beggars holding signs were found along most major roadways. But last week city commissioners approved a new ordinance that they believe is constitutional.

And police officers began enforcing it on Monday.

DiPino said, "Giving [panhandlers] money is keeping them in that position."

Sarasota police chief Bernadette DiPino said the new ordinance is good for the city.

"I think ultimately it's gonna help individuals who are out on the street, asking for money, it'll give us a chance to focus on getting them the help and resources they need," said DiPino.

Soliciting will no longer be allowed along roadways, medians and sidewalks.

Advertisers are excluded- they'll still be able to wave their signs.

She said, "Whether you're giving somebody a dollar or a bottle of water or whatever it is, if there is some type of interaction there, that's when the violation comes into play."

DiPino said it is legal for a driver or passenger to voluntarily hand out money from a car, but it is illegal to ask for donations from the roadway.

Officers are now keeping an eye out on their regular patrols, and signs have been posted to inform motorists.

But this doesn't sit well with the ACLU.

ACLU Attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen said, "The focus has been on homeless people but we're concerned that it will chill free speech rights of everyone."

The ACLU Sarasota chapter will keep tabs on all citations that are issued.

They're going to see if there are any first amendment violations.

Mogensen said, "I do think that there's a better way to handle the issue of homeless. When you have the government try to legislate away a social problem, you're gonna run afoul on the constitution."

All along, city officials have said this ordinance is more about driver safety, but Chief DiPino thinks it can help the homeless population too.

"We're hoping that they'll actually give their money to charitable organizations and there are so many of them doing so many good things for those people who need money and need help and resources," said DiPino.

This ordinance means nobody can solicit.

That includes newspaper salesmen and firemen with their ‘Fill the boot' campaign.

Those boot drives raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Merv Kennel, the president of Suncoast Firefighters said as a result of this ordinance, firemen have had to raise funds in front of restaurants and grocery stores.

Kennel said the donated cash pales in comparison to the money raised on street corners.

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