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Ocala
Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Ocala to repeal panhandling, begging ordinances that are ‘contradictory’ to state, federal law

Ocala is looking to repeal its controversial panhandling and roadway solicitation ordinances that the City Attorney’s Office says are “contradictory” to state and federal law.

An ordinance to repeal sections of Ocala’s Code of Ordinances as they relate to “panhandling and soliciting in the roadways” will be introduced during the Tuesday, August 17 meeting of the Ocala City Council. 

“There is current federal and state case law that is contradictory to our current ordinances 58-170 and 58-171 as they relate to panhandling and soliciting in the roadways,” reads city records filed by Assistant City Attorney Patrick Gilligan. 

A second ordinance to repeal section 22-361 will also be introduced during the meeting.

According to city records, the decision to repeal the sections was discussed during a recent shade meeting between Ocala City Council members and the City Attorney’s Office on July 30. 

Although the city council cannot make decisions at shade meetings as a result of sunshine laws, shade meetings enable local government officials to discuss sensitive matters without the need for public disclosure until the conclusion of litigation.

“The repeal of this ordinance is consistent with current law as articulated by the federal courts, and the Florida attorney general,” reads city records. 

The ordinance comes in response to lawsuits filed against the city of Ocala on behalf of homeless advocacy agencies. 

One such lawsuit was filed by the Southern Legal Counsel and the ACLU on behalf of six individuals “experiencing poverty” and homelessness for extended periods of time. It challenges two municipal ordinances enacted by the City of Ocala that restrict the plaintiffs’ “ability to request charity from fellow residents,” according to the complaint.

The Ocala City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month. The council next meets on Tuesday, August 17 at 5 p.m. at Ocala City Hall (110 SE Watula Avenue).