Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Florida city considers banning street solicitations, which would affect MDA "boot drives"

From FOX 13 in St. Petersburg, Fla.:

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - St. Petersburg's city council might be ready to clear everyone off public rights or way.

The primary motivation is to respond to complaints about roadside beggars who now occupy most major intersections.

Standing or sitting with a sign asking for food, money or employment is a constitutionally-protected form of free speech. That right can be overridden by a public safety interest, but any prohibition would have to apply to everyone: newspaper vendors, political sign wavers, high school groups and others raising money for charitable causes.

"The communitiy's finally fed up, and they've said if it means a little inconvenience in buying a newspaper or donating to a fundraising drive, they're okay with that just to clean up these street corners," said city councilman Jeff Danner.

St. Petersburg firefighters have a "boot drive" every year for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and are already campaigning against an outright ban on solicitations.

"This is major overkill," says union president Winthrop Newton. "The city leadership needs to find a scalpel, some way to carve us out."

"You can't carve them out without being challenged legally," Danner said.

The council's first public discussion of a possible solicitation ban is scheduled for a mid-June workshop. It will be part of a larger discussion about serving the needs of homeless while addressing growing complaints from the general public.