The Port Orange City Council Feb. 9 unanimously approved an ordinance to regulate panhandling in the city.
The ordinance doesn't stop all solicitation, it is meant to prohibit aggressive panhandling. The distance parameters in the ordinance apply citywide, but the vast majority of the city is still available to panhandlers. The ordinance also acts to protect panhandlers First Amendment speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union submitted a letter to the council, expressing concerns about the ordinance.
Special Legal Counsel Michael Kahn, who created the ordinance, stated prior to the council vote, “It’s a leading-edge ordinance.”
Mr. Kahn added that although success isn’t guaranteed, he believes that a compelling state/government interest has been put forth particularly with prior testimony, and that the ordinance as written is the least restrictive way to help mitigate the problems outlined in the prior testimony.
“It doesn’t prohibit panhandlers from making a living,” he said. “The only thing it prohibits is two things: aggressive panhandling citywide and panhandling after dark.”
Councilman Chase Tramont said, “I take strong offense to the ACLU allegations made earlier today that this ordinance is somehow related to the homeless issue. Had they seen or attended any of our prior meetings, they would know that’s simply not the case. Had they tuned in for our public hearing they would have also heard the hours and hours of testimony supporting the city’s need to adopt this regulation.
“The city is not addressing homelessness anywhere in the ordinance,” Councilman Tramont said. “The city is not prohibiting panhandling. We simply demand that the panhandling be done in a manner that does not place our citizens or the panhandlers in danger. I don’t know of any interest that can be more compelling than public safety. For these reasons and the reasons I shared at our first reading, I continue to stand in support of this ordinance.”
After the ordinance passed, Mayor Don Burnette said, “We’re targeting bad behavior. We’re targeting making sure the health, safety and welfare of our citizens are accounted for (and) the people that come to our city and travel through it. And we’re accounting for the panhandlers themselves and making sure that they’re safe.
“The reason that we have panhandling in Port Orange is because we have citizens with big hearts who care,” Mayor Burnette said. “It’s hard for them to say no to the person right in front of them. We’re not talking about homelessness with this ordinance.”
He added that to truly help the homeless, financial donations should be directed to agencies like the Jerry Doliner Food Bank, Halifax Urban Ministries, Hope Place Family Shelter, First Step Shelter, the Salvation Army, Palmetto House, The Volusia Flagler Coalition for the Homeless, Family Renew and local churches that feed the hungry.
There will be a learning curve with the new ordinance before penalties start. Key components of the ordinance include it being unlawful to panhandle, solicit or beg after dark; under the influence of alcohol or after illegally using a controlled substance; while someone is standing in line waiting to be admitted to a commercial establishment; at any transit stop, taxi stand or in a public transit vehicle; or at any lawfully permitted outdoor dining area, amphitheater, amphitheater seating area, playground or outdoor merchandise area, provided such areas are in active use at the time.
Aggressive panhandling is prohibited throughout the city.