LAKELAND, Fla. (FOX 13) - Polk Commissioners just voted to get rid of the county’s panhandling ordinance.
They saw the writing on the wall. A number of other communities are doing the same thing because of a growing body of federal case law. The courts have decided that panhandlers are protected under the First Amendment.
“Panhandling cannot be restricted,” Polk Commissioner George Lindsey explained. “It is treated as free speech, and you cannot prohibit someone from asking for money.”
That doesn’t mean panhandlers are going to have free rein in Polk.
Deputies were able to use the ordinance to essentially tell people to keep moving. Last year, they gave hundreds of verbal warnings and just seven citations.
Now Polk Sheriff Grady Judd says they will have to rely on laws with harsher penalties to keep the problem under control. Panhandlers could be charged with trespass or even burglary, depending on how aggressive they become.
"We’re gonna lock your butt up now,” Judd told FOX 13. “If you do it, we’re going to have to be tougher than we want to be,” he said.