Newspaper sues St. Pete
Calling a new ban on street solicitation a violation of its constitutional right to free speech, the St. Petersburg Times has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of St. Petersburg.
over its new street solicitation ban
"The right of access to public streets and sidewalks to distribute the news is essential to the exercise of the press' First Amendment freedoms," the suit states.
By a unanimous vote Thursday, the City Council approved banning all street solicitation, making no distinction between panhandling, roadside fundraising and street vending. The surge in panhandlers has troubled neighborhood leaders, and this ban was considered one way to put tighter restrictions on begging.
Council members said the inclusion of those activities is unfortunate, but necessary. They were following the advice of City Attorney John Wolfe, who said making exceptions would make the ban vulnerable to a legal challenge.
"The ordinance is a content-based restriction on speech that targets panhandlers and the homeless," the suit states. "In an attempt to appear content-neutral, the ordinance bans all 'street vending,' not for traffic safety but as a facade to disguise its content-based intentions."
The paper sells about 7,000 newspapers each Sunday, providing part-time work for many individuals. The ban would rob the vendors of income while threatening them with arrest for disseminating news to the public, a constitutional right, the suit states.
Enforcement of the ban is set for Sunday, but Judge Richard A. Lazzara will consider a motion to impose a restraining order on the city that would stop enforcement until the legal challenge is resolved.
Read the St. Petersburg Times article here.