JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville's panhandling ordinance, also known as item 2022-0574, passed the city's neighborhood committee. Now it's expected to go before the city council.
The ordinance, which was introduced in July 2022, would prevent panhandling in the city and it would cost both the person giving the money and accepting it. However, the bill has faced criticism that it is an attack on poor or homeless people. First Coast News talked to Councilman Al Ferraro about the ordinance, one of the co-sponsors behind the bill, said it is about public safety.
"What we're trying to do is we're trying to make sure people going through intersections aren't going to be harassed by people pulling on their door handles, walking children-animals-pets around their car - that people going through the intersection are going to be able to do that safely," Ferraro explained.
The panhandling ordinance would prohibit people to stand in medians for an extended amount of time, asking for money.
It would also be illegal for one to physically interact with someone on the roadways.
The ordinance is in response to the number of pedestrians/vehicle crashes in Duval County. In 2018 and 2021, nearly 500 cars were in accidents that involved people.
A recent study from the Florida Department of Transportation showed Jacksonville as the sixth worst municipality in the country for pedestrian deaths.
A. Wellington Barlow, a Jacksonville attorney, believes the ordinance is a violation of the first amendment and political attack on homeless people in the city. He admits, there is a safety issue, but something that's been that way for years in the city. He described the ordinance as an hypocrisy.
"This is going to cost the city a lot of money if it passes," Barlow said. "Its bold face hypocrisy because you have an exemption for firemen."
The panhandling ordinance would not impact first responders. During the neighborhood committee meeting, one of the changes to the bill would require people to have a permit to solicit. They would also have to prove they are 18 or older. To Barlow, the ordinance is a political move for Ferraro because he's running for mayor.
"The average homeless person who is out there with a sign, they're very respectful because they need to eat," Barlow added.
Councilman Ferraro did acknowledged the criticism. To the the councilman, the ordinance would go after aggressive panhandlers. He said "If you think that helping someone with an addiction or somebody who has a mental illness on an intersection - handing them money with cars going by at 35, 45, 55 miles an hour is helping them. It's not."
If the city council were to approve this bill, the city would issue a warning for the first 30 days. One can get up to three warning from police. After that, the driver and panhandler would get a citation of up to $100.