The Many Laws of Florida’s Panhandling

By Maria Mor

We either scramble for our bag in search of a couple dollar bills trying to beat the traffic light, or we lock our car doors and quickly avoid eye contact. Maybe we make a snarky comment about the beggar looking for some loose change; possibly, we send them prayers of hope and good faith. However, how often do we sit in our cars at those red lights and question if panhandling — the act of begging for money on the street — is actually a legal act? 

It turns out that each of the fifty states have settled regulations on the matter. In Florida, panhandling is a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine up to $500. The Sunshine State also ranks the highest in arrests for panhandling, with Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach County having most of them. According to statewide data presented in a lawsuit filed by Southern Legal Counsel, 1,000 arrests have been documented since 2017 in those three counties. 

The Florida Police Department often warn panhandlers days in advance before any new ordinance takes place, and, during face-to-face interactions, sheriffs always tend to give a warning prior to an arrest. If the subject does not cooperate after the warning is issued, they are taken into custody.

The laws are mostly focused on roadways, making it illegal to obstruct highways, streets, or roads. Yet, depending on where you live in the state, begging may or may not be an illegal act depending on the city’s own statutes on it. Here are those statutes for some major cities.

St. Petersburg

-Banned:

  • In downtown commercial areas
  • Near banks or ATMs
  • At bus stops and public transportation

Kissimmee

– Banned:

  • Near banks or ATMs
  • At bus stops and public transportation
  • From sundown to sunup

– Illegal to wear a military uniform while panhandling or imply that you are out of town and stranded.

– If someone says “No” you cannot follow them or be within 3 feet of anyone to ask for donations

Orlando

– Banned:

  • Asking for money or receiving donations from cars that are stopped at red lights, stop signs, or exit ramps
  • At ATMs
  • While blocking a parking lot
  • In a large audience such as people eating or watching a performance

Ft. Lauderdale

– Banned:

  • In public city parks
  • City parking lots, government buildings, and near sidewalk dining areas (within 15 feet)
  • On beaches, beach sidewalks, and main avenues

Boca Raton

– Banned:

  • Collecting money, passing out pamphlets, or waving signs

– Must remain on sidewalks and road shoulders

– Can no longer wander into busy intersections

Miami

– Banned:

  • Asking for money in tourist areas at all
  • Within 20 feet of a bank, ATM, or parking payment machine

Daytona Beach

– Banned:

  • Within 20 feet of an entrance or exit of commercial zones, bus stop, public transportation facility, automated teller machine, and any parking areas
  • In public restrooms operated by a government agency
  • After the sun goes down
  • Overaggressive panhandling: defined as acting in a threatening way, continuing to demand money after someone says no, or blocking someone’s path

– $200 fine and an arrest for people who solicit in newly outlawed area

Tampa

– Banned:

  • Aggressive panhandling, defined as acting in a threatening way, continuing to demand money after someone says no, or blocking someone’s path

Ocala

– Banned:

  • Within a 20 feet boundary around business entrances and exits
  • At Bus stops and other public transportation
  • ATMs and similar machines
  • Parking lots/garages/meters/pay stations
  • Public restrooms and gas pumps
  • After dark – between half an hour after sunset until half-hour before sunrise

– Before the revamping of the panhandling ordinance, only ATMs had a non-panhandling law set a 15 feet

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Panhandling in the US Circuit Split on Criminal Statutes

Below are the state laws for the rest of the country on panhandling’s legality. It is important to note that, in all 50 states, acting in a threatening way, continuing to demand money after someone says no, or blocking someone’s path is illegal — which national authorities define as aggressive panhandling.

  • The First Circuit: Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island has found that statutes banning median panhandling are unconstitutional, but laws prohibiting “aggressive panhandling” are OK
  • The Fourth Circuit: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia ruled that “panhandling and solicitation of charitable contributions are protected speech”
  • The Sixth Circuit: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee ruled that begging is protected by the First Amendment
  • The Seventh Circuit: Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin upheld a ban on an oral request for money right now
  • The Ninth Circuit: West and West Coast, has held that day laborers have the right to solicit work, but airports can ban solicitation.

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Some cities criminalize the act of giving to the homeless, like in 2014 when two pastors and a 90-year-old man were arrested in Fort Lauderdale for feeding people in need. Similarly, in 2011 the anti-poverty group Food Not Bombs were taken into custody for feeding the poor at a local Orlando public park.

For local non-profits or alternative giving campaigns, check out HOPE South Florida, Food For the Poor, Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County, and the COSAC Foundation that publishes this newspaper. Remember, just a small dosage of human decency goes a very long way!



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