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Friday, April 12, 2024

Want To Panhandle on the Median? Think Again! The City of Winter Haven Adopted a Stricter Ordinance Against That

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Want To Panhandle on the Median? Think Again! The City of Winter Haven Adopted a Stricter Ordinance Against That

by James Coulter

If you’re considering standing on a median in the middle of the road to bum money off of passing drivers—first, get a job! And, second, re-consider panhandling because the City of Winter Haven has placed greater restrictions on that activity.

The Winter Haven City Commission recently placed further restrictions on panhandling and solicitations by repealing their current ordinance prohibiting such activities and locally adopting a stronger ordinance passed earlier this year by the County Commission.

At their regular meeting on Monday evening, Winter Haven City Commissioners voted unanimously on the second reading of an ordinance modifying the city code and its prohibitions against panhandling, solicitation, and canvassing on private property and public right of ways.

Among the changes, the ordinance prohibits individuals from sitting or lying on public sidewalks and the entryways of public buildings, and from panhandling and soliciting on or near private property without the property owner’s permission.

According to the city staff memo, the ordinance would accomplish the following:

1. The ordinance would repeal the existing “Public Solicitation Ordinance” in its entirety.

2. The ordinance would adopt the recent Polk County Board of County Commissioners ordinance relating to “dangerous uses of public rights-of-way” as an enforceable provision of the City’s Code of Ordinances.

3. The ordinance would reenact the City’s prohibition on solicitation, panhandling or canvassing in, on, about, or upon private property, and private property would be defined to include any “public” property that is leased to a private entity or licensed to a private entity for its exclusive use (such as a sidewalk cafe or sidewalk marketplace, and could include any leased or licensed portion of a public parking garage).

4. The ordinance would enact a “sit-lie” prohibition on public sidewalks during heavily traveled hours (7:00 AM to 10:00 PM) and prohibit obstructing the entryways and exits to and from public buildings during hours that such buildings are open for access and use by members of the public.

These modifications to the city code had been recommended by City Staff, the City Department of Public Safety, and the City Attorney’s Office. City Commissioner Brian Yates motioned to approve the second reading of the ordinance, and city commissioners voted unanimously to approve it.

Earlier this year, Polk County’s Board of County Commissioners adopted the Polk County Dangerous Rights-of-Way Ordinance. The ordinance prohibits dangerous uses of public rights-of-way, which includes lingering on medians or initiating contact with drivers.

“The ordinance will be enforced by the Sheriff of Polk County,” a press release on the Polk County website said. “Failure to comply will result in fines of $25 to $500, and a third offense may result in a penalty of up to 60 days in jail.”

City Manager T Straves said the ordinance passed by the city commission was consistent with what the county had previously accomplished and that it is compliant with state law.

“It is a safeguard against individuals who are panhandling in our right of way,” he said. “It is a safety issue more than anything.”

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