Sarasota city commissioners are slated to consider a new sign-solicitation ordinance this spring that could replace an ordinance a judge ordered the city to stop enforcing.
The city’s sign-holding law, also known as ordinance 23-1, was repealed in January. Circuit Court Judge Rick DeFuria said the ordinance violated federal free-speech protections by prohibiting panhandlers from holding signs that solicit money from passing motorists.
City Attorney Bob Fournier is drafting a new ordinance to replace the repealed law. Fournier expects to present a draft of the new ordinance to city commissioners April 1.
“We are doing a lot of background work on it,” Fournier said.
Fournier aims to present commissioners with information about what type of regulations are constitutional and which ones are not. That way, elected officials can make an informed decision.
The judge issued an injunction Feb. 13 to ensure the Sarasota Police Department was not enforcing the ordinance. Then, in a consent decree issued, the city agreed to abide by a 60-day injunction that stops the city of Sarasota, its city manager and police chief from enforcing the repealed solicitation ordinance.
The injunction came after the Sarasota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit to prevent the police department from enacting ordinance 23-1.
Fournier said the key is to make sure the law does not target homeless people.
“We are targeting behavior and not a group of people,” Fournier said.
The new ordinance could be modeled after Tampa’s law that prohibits the exchange of money between motorists and someone standing beside the roadway. Other cities, with a similar law, allow fundraising, but require collectors to wear vests that let people know they are fundraisers, Fournier said.
“The law that has been repealed has to be replaced,” said City Commissioner Shannon Snyder.
Snyder said a set of laws in St. Petersburg that deal with the homeless population could provide a model for a solicitation ordinance. The new law should be used in combination with social services offered at nonprofits, such as the Salvation Army, Snyder said.
“We are not talking about a heinous crime here,” Snyder said. “But the city cannot offer people services without a consequence for certain actions.”
“The ordinance is the easy part,” Snyder said. “The hard part is getting the police department on a unified page on how they will implement it.”
City officials and the police department need to collaborate on a plan that outlines how it will issue warnings and enforce the law, Snyder said.
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