PALMETTO -- An incident a few weeks ago involving a group soliciting funds from people in vehicles stopped at traffic lights on Eighth Avenue West spurred multiple citizen complaints, which in turn, launched Palmetto officials into action Monday.
The Palmetto City Commission closed out weeks of debate about how to amend the city solicitation and panhandling ordinance by making it illegal for solicitors to repeat such dangerous activity in traffic. Commissioners also did away with previous exemptions deemed vague and subjective.
The city decision complies with a 2003 Florida Supreme Court ruling against selective solicitation.
City ordinance restrictions now must be all-inclusive, which is the road city officials traveled in a 4-1 vote to pass the amended ordinance.
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The roadblock for at-large Commissioner Tamara Cornwell was defining solicitation.
She said the ordinance would restrict political candidates from approaching city residents at home. She said local
ly it wouldn't be a challenge informing candidates of their responsibilities, but county, state and federal candidates: "Won't know they are doing something against our city ordinance. They aren't selling anything. If it's going to go this way, you will lose me."
City attorney Mark Barnebey said the city had to remain neutral in the ordinance language, which allows candidates or other solicitors to drop off literature in neighborhoods, but they are not to knock on doors.
City clerk Jim Freeman said literature constitutes solicitation if there is language asking for donations or directing voters how to contribute. He said that language should be removed.
Ward 2 Commissioner Tambra Varnadore said it doesn't mean candidates can't do it -- they need a permit.
"We should know who is out there in the city approaching our residents," Varnadore said.
Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant agreed.
"If it's to err on the side of caution, and is a slight inconvenience to ask people to submit to a no-cost permit to protect our citizens, I would like to see you support the ordinance," Bryant said.
Cornwell dissented in the 4-1 vote, which requires all solicitors to go to the city clerk's office for a permit. The ordinance restricts hours of permitted solicitations from 8 a.m.-8 p.m., does not allow door-to-door solicitations in neighborhoods posting a "No Solicitation" sign and cannot solicit within 15 feet of a bus stop, bank entrance or ATM. If a resident asks a solicitor to leave, he or she must do so immediately and cannot be aggressive in their speech or approach.
The Palmetto Police Department, other law enforcement agencies and the Palmetto Code Enforcement Department were given the authority to terminate a solicitation permit onsite. Solicitation within 5 feet of a public roadway also is disallowed under the new ordinance, ensuring traffic remains unobstructed.