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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Ocala votes to repeal panhandling, roadway solicitation ordinances deemed unconstitutional

The city of Ocala has repealed certain sections of the city code relating to panhandling and roadway solicitation that were deemed unconstitutional in federal court.

The decision to repeal the sections came during the Tuesday, September 14 meeting of the Ocala City Council. Council members voted to approve an ordinance repealing sections 58-170, 58-171, and 22-361 as they relate to soliciting in the roadways and panhandling. 

During discussion Tuesday night, Assistant City Attorney Patrick Gilligan advised council members that municipalities across the nation are facing similar challenges to their own ordinances. Gilligan says the majority of those ordinances have been deemed unconstitutional because, among other things, they restrict free speech. 

Now that the ordinances have been repealed, Gilligan says the city needs to get a feeling for what other communities are doing in response to challenges before committing to a new ordinance. He alluded to the “huge debate” around the country regarding the “growing homeless population” and said that ideas on how to address the issue will be “fleshed out over time.” He stressed the importance of creating a new ordinance that is constitutionally valid. 

The repeal comes in light of multiple legal challenges that will cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle.

One of those challenges was presented during Tuesday’s meeting, when council members were informed that a judge awarded $392,000 to a group of plaintiffs represented by the Southern Legal Counsel and American Civil Liberties Union. That settlement included over $370,000 in attorney’s fees.