Pensacola

ACLU issues final statement before Pensacola Panhandling Ordinance vote

May 11, 2017

ACLU of Florida Statement on Pensacola Panhandling Ordinance

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – May 11, 2017
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, media@aclufl.org, (786) 363-2737

MIAMI, FL – The Pensacola city council is expected to give final approval tonight for an anti-panhandling ordinance which would prohibit individuals from asking for donations in much of downtown Pensacola. Responding to the expected vote, ACLU of Florida staff attorney Jacqueline Azis stated:

“We have again and again warned the city council that this law is a constitutionally suspect attack on the rights of the community’s neediest members. The courts have repeatedly spoken on this issue when it has been tried elsewhere: cities cannot ban certain kinds of speech just because hearing it makes some people uncomfortable.

“If the city council is concerned about homelessness in downtown Pensacola, they should focus on addressing the underlying causes of the problem, not attacking the rights of those who are living in homelessness. This ordinance doesn’t address the problem, treats the community’s most vulnerable like a criminal nuisance, and leaves the city exposed to litigation.”

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  • Alice Harris May 11, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    I am genuinely thankful the ACLU exists and is receiving unprecedented support. What part of Unconstitutional do you not understand, city council? Do you think the ACLU lawyers are just imagining what the US Supreme Court has said about this?

  • CJ Lewis May 11, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    I think the “legal” issues boil down to three.

    First, can a city government adopt a city law that prohibits people from passively standing or sitting with or without a sign for the purpose of soliciting a donation? The existing city law – Section 8-1-25 Panhandling – that applies citywide expressly explains that such conduct is not regulated and not panhandling, soliciting or begging, the three terms of art used in the existing ordinance. As such, right away, the DIB Panhandling Ordinance (Section 8-1-28) is in conflict because it outlaws in 30 blocks of the city what Section 8-1-25 makes legal citywide. Interestingly, in the 2016 Tampa case cited (Homeless Helping Homeless), the city law expressly allowed people to passively sit or stand with a sign.

    Second, the hyper-ventilated “Legislative Findings” that lay the legal foundation for the restrictions imposed in the DIB Panhandling Ordinance make no sense. The Legislative Findings describe problems that would be eliminated if the Pensacola Police Department enforced the existing law, Section 8-1-25.

    Third, “if” the ACL:U challenges both Section 8-1-28 (DIB Panhandling Ordinance) “and” Section 8-1-25 (the citywide Panhandling Ordinance), the city may be in for a rude surprise. Section 8-1-25 was adopted in 2013 and, as we recall, without much thought to it. The U.S. Supreme Court “Reed” decision was decided in 2015. There is no evidence that City Attorney Bowling has carefully assessed Section 8-1-25 (2013) in light of Reed (2015). That seems legal malpractice. Post-“Reed,,” laws similar and even less onerous than the DIB Panhandling Ordinance are being stricken down all over the county.

    I’ve now read the Tampa decision many times to include reviewing the Tampa law before “and” after and reading the footnotes in the decision. If the City Council wants to open up a can of worms to get DIB John Peacock off its back, it should anticipate the risk of the ACLU prevails and the Court finds, for example, that the 13 500-foot radius “NO Panhandling” zones described in Section 8-1-25 are illegal. Right now, no one has challenged them along with restrictions against panhandling near ATMs, etc.

    A saner approach would be for the City Council to ask why the existing Panhandling ordinance is not being actively enforced. If it were, the major problems with aggressive and unsafe panhandling would be greatly reduced though presumably never totally eliminated. Meanwhile, the City Council could hire an expert on constitutional law to help draft a panhandling law that might survive judicial review. On the current reckless course, the big losers are going to be city taxpayers forced to pay to defend the DIB’s law. Further, the DIB is not offering to hire PPD Officers to enforce its panhandling law so an already stretched PPD is just going to be stretched further to the breaking point.