Alachua County panhandling ordinance not holding up

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ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. (WCJB) - It seems like panhandlers have been popping up all over Alachua County this year.

That's because seven years after the ordinance was approved, county leaders found out it had one little issue. In its current state, it is not constitutional.

"They regulate this behavior in the name of traffic safety, but it only regulates one type of speech," said Alachua County Public Defender Stacy Scott. "They regulate the content of the speech and it's a First Amendment violation."

It singles out begging on the side of the road as a traffic safety violation but just about everything else is okay.

Scott said the ordinance is just too narrow to be created as a safety concern, that they would need to include all forms of behavior on the side of the road.

County leaders agreed the ordinance can't stand on its own.

"It's not as simple as folks think, you can't try to target a certain group or citizen," said Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton.

While it's still technically law no one's going to get in trouble for panhandling alone.

Alachua county sheriff's deputies are laying low until a better ordinance is in place.

There have not been any arrests or citations since this ordinance has been under review. Older cases have been dropped as well.

A new law will come into play when county attorneys write up another ordinance to present to commissioners. But for now, the flaw in the ordinance is too big to risk making arrests under.