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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Committee debates effects of panhandling ordinance

While the county panhandling ordinance was passed in September, the county is still debating over its purpose.

County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning to refer the panhandling ordinance for further research by the county attorney before any action is taken on the law.

The ordinance does not allow solicitation on public streets in unincorporated Alachua County, which includes parts of Southwest 20th Avenue.

However, what was originally regarded as a public safety issue has become an issue of restricting nonprofit organizations from collecting money for a cause.

The Alachua County Fire Rescue, which collected donations for the "Fill the Boot" Muscular Dystrophy Association campaign, isn't allowed to gather money in the streets under the current ordinance.

Commissioners were wary to keep or repeal the ordinance without more background information.

County attorney David Wagner said the debate is a first amendment issue.

If the commission allows certain people, like charities, out in the streets, it would become harder to enforce the ordinance, Wagner said.

There is also a possibility that the Alachua County Sheriff's Office would get sued for allowing some people in the streets but not others, Wagner said.

Commissioner Cynthia Moore Chestnut said the process of selecting who could gather money in the streets would be unconstitutional, and the county shouldn't waste taxpayers' money on a first amendment lawyer.

However, some commissioners said safety is still a concern.

Commissioner Chair Paula DeLaney said she doesn't want people in the streets, especially in large intersections like Archer Road and 34th Street.

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"I don't think it's appropriate for pedestrians to be where the cars go," she said.

DeLaney said that it sounds like the commission has to either keep the ordinance or repeal it, and there is no in-between.

DeLaney said Wagner will work with attorneys in Florida's House and Senate to get more information.

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