Palm Beach County Bans Panhandling on Roads

Palm Beach County Bans Panhandling on Roads
photo by Alex Proimos via WIkimedia Commons

In a 5-1 vote on Tuesday, the Palm Beach County Commissioners voted to ban panhandling throughout county roads. The ordinance covers not only those who beg for money from drivers in intersections but also charities, nonprofit organizations, or anyone else soliciting donations.

Specifically, the ordinance addresses people who stand in the street or on a median asking for money. However, it'll still be legal to ask for money on sidewalks. That also means that organizations passing out pamphlets or waving signs will have to do so on sidewalks or else face being cited under the new ordinance. 

According to the Palm Beach Post, violators could be fined up to $500 or spend up to 60 days in jail. However, Palm Beach Sheriff's Office maintains that warnings will be issued first. 

Of the six commissioners, only Melissa MacKinlay opposed the ordinance. Her reason is that the majority of those who are cited for breaking the ordinance are poor and couldn't afford to pay the fine. She offered a compromise solution to maybe fine motorists who stop to give change. A message to McKinlay's office for comment has yet to be returned.

County Mayor Shelley Vana was absent from Tuesday's vote.

Meanwhile, Broward County is considering a similar ordinance Tuesday. Commissioners there will be deciding if panhandling should be banned in 20 busy intersection, such as Griffin Road, State Road 84, and Broward and Sunrise boulevards. As with Palm Beach, the ordinance is being backed by what officials are calling safety concerns.

The ordinances could meet with resistance by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. Since panhandling is a First Amendment right, it might be difficult to uphold and enforce such a law. 

Much like the food sharing ordinance passed in Fort Lauderdale last year, we could see advocates challenge the ordinance in court once police begin to fine people — particularly poor and homeless people.

The ACLU is well-known for being aggressive in cracking down on such ordinances, often sending letters to cities and municipalities calling for a repeal on such laws, citing them as unconstitutional. 

In 2014, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to block a similar ordinance from being passed in Colorado

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