County Takes a Shot at Panhandlers – and Misses

Update: The County Commission passed the ordinance at its meeting on June 23rd. Here’s the pdf of the agenda item:
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The Palm Beach County Commission is getting closer to an ordinance that would ban panhandlers and others from standing in roadway medians. On the agenda for May 19th is a “preliminary reading” of the proposed ordinance. The full ordinance is at the bottom of this article.
We’ve taken a thorough look at the proposal. It’s a good try but falls short of what’s needed. There are two key sections that matter the most. First is the “Prohibitions” – what’s going to be made illegal:

In short it will be illegal for people to go on the “road” to display information, distribute materials or goods, or solicit business or charitable contributions.
The second key detail is in the definition of what’s a road:

The definition includes medians and traffic islands, which is where we mostly see panhandlers and others who might create traffic hazards.
This proposal has some things right but it also has some misses. For one thing it does nothing about people panhandling or otherwise disturbing traffic from sidewalks. While panhandlers will probably move from the medians, they’ll just go to the corners. That’s an improvement but it’s not a complete solution.
It also does nothing about someone who might stand in the median with no apparent purpose. This creates a problem for prosecutors who will have to prove that the defendant was engaged in one of the prohibited purposes. It may not be easy to prove that.
Back in October we wrote about how the City of Boca Raton deals with this, and at the bottom in an update we added a court decision that showed how Pembroke Pines does it. The Pembroke Pines approach included sidewalks and any other area within 200 feet of intersections.
The other thing Pembroke Pines did right, and this new proposal appears to get wrong, relates to a legal and constitutional concept called narrow tailoring. First, their ordinance focused on “right of way canvassers and solicitors”:

any person who sells or offers for sale any thing or service of any kind, or who seeks any donation of any kind, or who personally hands or seeks to transmit by hand or receive by hand any thing or service of any kind, whether or not payment in exchange is required or requested, to any person who operates or occupies a motor vehicle or any kind

It specifically exempted the mere display of information:

The term shall not apply to any person who merely holds or displays a sign lawfully permitted to be displayed by a person as long as there is no entry by such person or sign into any portion of the roadway or its median.

The Pembroke Pines ordinance was also limited to specific intersections which amounted to less than 10% of the city’s roadways. As the court put it in that case:

[T]he Ordinance is narrowly tailored …. It regulates only canvassing and soliciting, and it does so with regard to only six of the City’s roadways, or less than 10% of the City’s public roads. Significantly, only after “City staff analyzed each of the major roads within its jurisdiction” did the City identify the six streets “where canvassers could pose a particularly increased danger on traffic flow, driver safety and safety of the canvasser.”

It would have required some work, but the county could have followed Pembroke Pines by identifying specific intersections where pedestrians are at greatest risk and limiting the ordinance to those intersections. No one is worried about this problem at Glades and Cain, or at 441 and Atlantic. But there have been numerous accidents with pedestrian fatalities at key intersections on 441 including Sandalfoot and SW 18th, and we have personally observed pedestrians creating traffic problems at Glades and 441.
Based on these weaknesses, it is likely that the ordinance will be challenged on constitutional grounds and the county will lose. As taxpayers we will waste a lot of money on lawyers, knowing that we’re going to lose. And as residents we will continue to face traffic safety issues caused by this problem. More pedestrians will die because our county commission is getting it wrong.
It’s frustrating because I tried to get our commissioners and the county attorney’s office to at least read the Pembroke Pines decision. See my two e-mails below:

If all goes according to plan the hearing would be set for June 23, 2015. If it passes it will then take a month or two before deputies get the word out and really start enforcing it. And then within a year we should see constitutional challenges to the ordinances.
The full proposed ordinance is below.
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Election Results for West Boca

Results are in for the 2014 election and showed victory for incumbents and insiders. The most local of the races affecting West Boca was County Commission District 4, which is east of the Turnpike. Incumbent Steven Abrams (R) won the race handily with 59% of the vote over Andy O’Brien (D). Unfortunately that does not bode well for us on the issue of panhandlers.

Steven Abrams
Steven Abrams

In the nearest congressional race, Democrat incumbent Lois Frankel defeated Paul Spain (R), also with 59% of the vote. State Senate incumbent Maria Sachs (D) won by a closer margin with 55% of the vote over Ellyn Bogdanoff.
Spain, Frankel, Sachs & Bogdanoff
Spain, Frankel, Sachs & Bogdanoff

The tightest race in our area was in the State House, where incumbent Bill Hager (R) defeated challenger David Silvers 53% to 47%.
On the county ballot questions, the school tax for arts and music won a yes handily, getting 79% of the vote. The Children’s Service Council question also won with an even larger 84%.

Candidate Forum Report and Endorsements

Temple Beth El of Boca Raton hosted a candidate forum Tuesday. Numerous candidates appeared and answered questions, including all in the above photo and more. The author of this article was on the committee that set up the forum, planned the questions, and also served on the panel that asked the questions.
Election Day is this coming Tuesday, the 4th. Early voting is still on from 7 am through 7 pm through Sunday, at the West Boca branch library on 441.

The last two candidates on the agenda were the ones asked about an issue on the minds of many in West Boca. West Boca News has been pressing incumbent County Commissioner Steven Abrams (R) about his position on panhandlers on our intersections, and he has been ducking us. He continued to avoid it on Tuesday. His position is that he needs to talk to the firefighters and the PBA first. Those groups also use the intersections to solicit contributions.
Abrams’ challenger, Andy O’Brien (D) was far more clear. He supports adopting the same approach used by the City of Boca Raton. Although we find him a little kooky in talking about global warming at the county level, his solid answer on panhandling merits our endorsement.

Another hot race that covers part of West Boca is congressional district 22, includes some of West Boca and all of East Boca. Republican Paul Spain and incumbent Democrat Lois Frankel both were there. Asked about immigration, Frankel gave a short but vague answer. Spain’s answer didn’t make sense to my ears, saying we need to count the illegal aliens who are here.
On spending Spain said we should spend less but had no answer on where he’d cut. Frankel said it’s not a question of more or less (that was the question) and that she’d eliminate tax cuts to oil companies and others.
Both were also asked about using US troops to combat ISIS in foreign countries. Both were unclear in their answers. Frankel said it should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Spain said we should only go in if we’re determined to win.
The highlight of their time on the stage was in their closings. Spain said that our relations with Israel have gotten so bad that the Obama administration is not talking with the Israeli government. Frankel disagreed and the audience applauded her.
Speaking only for myself and not for West Boca News’ co-founder, Spain seems the better choice here but not by much. He started with an old tired Republican cliche – that he’s a businessman rather than a professional politician. And I’d have liked him better if he’d spell out some specific cuts. But at least he says he’d cut spending, where Frankel appears to be happy with spending gone wild in Washington. As for the Israel point, he’s a lot more accurate than Frankel, per the liberal Atlantic. It amazes this author that anyone who is strongly pro-Israel could support the Obama administration’s handling of the situation.

State Senate District 34 covers all of Boca east of the Turnpike. Ellen Bogdanoff (R) gave the most awkward opening statement I’ve ever seen, telling the audience she was uncomfortable and almost didn’t come because she feels she’s judged unfairly by the Jewish community. In the middle of an overall poor performance she gave the best answer of the night when asked about expanding Medicaid. She encouraged the audience to ask their doctors about it and asserted that many doctors are retiring – I’ve heard similar comments made by a number of doctor friends. Incumbent Senator Maria Sachs (D) was a stark contrast. She was so smooth it seemed unnatural. She repeatedly mentioned a couple of “accomplishments” that did not impress me, especially something about bringing a program to FAU from Technion University in Israel.
Based on Bogdanoff’s Medicaid answer I would have endorsed her. However, her erratic performance sapped my confidence in her. Hostile audiences are the best audiences to meet – you can’t lose their votes. She should know better. West Boca News makes no endorsement in the race.

Another hot race involves incumbent Republican Bill Hager against Democrat David Silvers for State House east of Military Trail. I’ve met Hager a few times but never felt a personal connection. By contrast I met Silvers for the first time that night and found him warm and personable.
Hager impressed me a lot more with his answers. On Common Core Hager gave a straight answer that he opposes it along with much of the testing and favors local control. Hager served on a school board in the past. Silvers also said he opposes Common Core but was unclear what alternative he supports.
Both were asked about the “Competitive Workforce Act.” Hager said he’s a co-sponsor of it and Silvers supports it. There didn’t seem to be much of a difference between them on this. If I were choosing who I wanted to have a beer with it’d be Silvers. But in choosing who to serve in the State House, I endorse Bill Hager in this race.

For the rest of the races we’ll take them in the order they came on the agenda. First up was Carl Domino, a Republican in a contested race with Congressman Patrick Murphy. Their district is well north of here with the southern part of it in West Palm Beach. Domino presented himself reasonably well, but gave a classic establishment Republican non-answer when asked where he would cut spending.
Next was Alcee Hastings, the incumbent Democrat from District 20, which does not include West Boca but includes areas near it:
Hastings is a great speaker with a powerful voice and a sharp mind. He was also interesting. In contrast to the official Obama administration position, Hastings said that there are US special forces troops on the ground in Syria right now. He’s also one of the rare politicians to give a solid answer on where he would cut spending, saying he would reduce US military involvement overseas.
Congressman Ted Deutch (D) appeared alone. We previously reported that he’s unopposed but there is a write-in campaign and the man behind it is Mike Trout. Trout was not invited to the forum because at the time we were deciding whom to invite, we did not know he was running. District 21 includes most of West Boca. Everything west of the Turnpike is in the district. East of the Turnpike and north of Clint Moore the district runs to Military Trail. South of Palmetto Park Road it extends to Powerline and then south of SW 18th it goes to Military Trail.
Deutch was very popular with the audience. He did not give a straight answer on where he’d cut spending or where he’d raise taxes, other than to say he opposes across-the-board cuts. He was also vague on balancing the fight against terrorism with protecting individual rights. On one issue he and most of the candidates were clear – he stands firmly with Israel.
In the statewide CFO race Democrat Will Rankin showed up, while incumbent Jeff Atwater (R) did not. Atwater has a lot of local ties and his absence was disappointing. Rankin seemed competent and gave reasonable answers to the questions. He raised good points about rising insurance rates and the handling of the state’s public pension system. In part because Atwater was a no-show and also because he’s announced his interest in leaving the position to become President of FAU, West Boca News endorses Rankin.
Republican challenger for State House Stuart Mears showed up but the incumbent, Mark Pafford, did not. Their district (86) is well north of us starting in Wellington. Regarding education and testing he gave a pretty good answer about using testing to measure student growth. On spending and revenue his answer was unclear.
Incumbent Lori Berman (D) serves in House District 90 and she’s running unopposed. She was well received and made some wonderful comments about “high risk testing.”

Panhandlers: Andy O'Brien Responds

Update: Commissioner Abrams did respond, briefly. See bottom of the article.
After three attempts we’ve still received no response from Commissioner Abrams and Berger on the panhandling issue in West Boca and the rest of unincorporated Palm Beach County.
Today we sent an e-mail to Andy O’Brien, who is challenging Abrams in the current election for the seat in District 4. Unlike Abrams, O’Brien responded quickly. Here’s what he had to say:

I would favor an approach such as they have in Boca Raton and find the County Attorney’s opinion curious. My first principal as a Commissioner is to protect citizens safety. While care must be taken not to violate anyone’s constitutional rights, care must also be taken to find a balance where non-panhandling citizens are not endangered.
Said more plainly, I will put this question in my (large) pile of items not being dealt with by my opponent and once elected will take up the issue with the county attorney and fellow commissioners so as to find that balance.
Andy O’Brien

Andy Official Pic
Commissioner Abrams’ response:
As an update, at our meeting yesterday, the Board discussed the possibility of a blanket ban, and the county attorney’s office will be providing additional information, and then the Board will determine if it wishes to consider same.

Panhandling: How the City of Boca Raton Does It

Update: At bottom we’ve posted a federal case that upheld Pembroke Pines’ ordinance against panhandling and similar behavior.
In our recent article on panhandlers, a lot of readers have asked why we don’t see them in the city of Boca Raton. The city adopted specific ordinances to deal with the problem, and not just panhandlers.
First, there’s an ordinance about soliciting on streets:

Sec. 16-3. – Soliciting, collecting, etc., upon streets.
No person shall stand or walk on the paved portion of any right-of-way, except sidewalks and bike paths, or in any paved or unpaved median strip of any street, road or highway in the city for any of the following purposes:
(a) Soliciting donations of money or of property of any kind for charitable, religious, educational, benevolent or any other purposes from the occupant of any motor vehicle;
(b) Collecting donations of money or of property of any kind for charitable, religious, educational, benevolent or any other purposes from the occupant of any motor vehicle;
(c) Soliciting the purchase of property or of services of any nature whatsoever by the occupant of any motor vehicle;
(d)Selling property or services of any nature whatsoever to the occupant of any motor vehicle.
(Code 1966, § 21-82; Ord. No. 5132, § 2, 4-27-10)

Note that it allows sidewalks and bike paths. This is important from a constitutional perspective because it fits under “time, place and manner” restrictions. Also note that it does not discriminate based on the type of solicitation. That also helps make it constitutional in that it’s not based on the content of the person’s “speech” (solicitation being a form of speech).
Second, they created an exception to the rule for “special events,” requiring a permit:

Sec. 8-160. – Special event permit to solicit funds, donations, etc.—Required.
It shall be unlawful for any person to conduct a special event, solicit funds or donations of money or of property of any kind for charitable or benevolent purposes without first obtaining a special event permit from the city and payment of the fee specified in the Boca Raton Municipal Facilities and Services User Fee Schedule. A special event is defined as any meeting, activity, gathering, or group of persons, animals, or vehicles, or a combination thereof, having a common purpose, design or goal, upon any public facility, street, sidewalk, alley, park, or other place or building where the special event substantially inhibits the usual flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic or which occupies any area or building generally open to the public and preempts use by the general public. A special event shall include but not be limited to a festival, carnival, concert, parade, walk, race, fund-raising sale and similar gatherings.
(Code 1966, § 16-24; Ord. No. 4533, § 3, 9-12-00)

The exception includes an application process in Section 8-161 and 8-162. It requires proof of various things such as that the person is genuinely employed by a genuine charitable organization.
Our county elected officials are hiding behind the false idea that they can’t stop panhandlers and others from creating traffic hazards because of constitutional limitations. Most of our readers figured out this was phony because they see that the problem is far less in cities like Boca Raton. The way Boca Raton does it shows how it can be done if our county commissioners want to do it.
For now at least it’s apparent that they don’t. We specifically asked Commissioners Berger and Abrams (who represent West Boca) and they have not responded, instead hiding behind the County Attorney. In light of the County Attorney’s response, we have again asked them and they have so far not responded.
Please note that Commissioner Abrams faces challenger Andy O’Brien in the election going on right now. We will ask Mr. O’Brien if he has a position on the issue.
Update: A reader sent us this case from the federal court that covers South Florida, regarding this issue in Pembroke Pines. The court ruled in favor of the city’s ordinance restricting panhandling and similar behavior.
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