Friday, September 02, 2011

St. Pete ordinance would make it illegal for panhandlers
to tell lies on their cardboard signs

St. Petersburg is proposing a new ordinance aimed at truth in advertising -- on those cardboard signs people hold up on the side of the road.The new ordinance would ban "fraudulent panhandling," making it illegal for panhandlers to claim that they're homeless or disabled or a veteran or stranded if they're not.

"Most of the people who fly the cards say they're homeless or veterans, but most aren't veterans or homeless," said Robert Marbut, the city's consultant on homelessness. "But they are making a lot of tax-free money."

But the proposal raises many questions: How would the police check the accuracy of those claims? Can the city really regulate what people write on signs? And after the city's successful crackdown on the homeless and panhandling population, who's left to break the new law?

Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger already sees a flaw in the law: a homeless person could incriminate himself just by answering an officer's questions. The Fifth Amendment protects against that.

"It's the criminalization of homelessness," Dillinger said. "And in this case since it's a criminal offense, you don't have to answer.

"You prove that I'm not homeless. You prove that I'm not a veteran."

If any of these cases ever go to court, the area's top public defender added: "I'll try some of those myself."

Read the St. Petersburg Times report here.

By the way, this is already illegal in Orlando. Section 43.86(4) of the City Code prohibits "false or misleading" panhandling, including saying that you're homeless, when you're is not.

Update: Well, never mind. The proposed ordinance has been withdrawn. Assistant city attorney Mark Winn believed a recently passed state law banned aggressive panhandling, but that legislation died in committee.

"I was mistaken," Winn said. "There is no state legislation on this, so there is no need for us to be addressing this issue at this time."

Read the St. Petersburg Times report here.


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