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New Pasco County ordinance will fine drivers in effort to stop panhandling

Posted at 4:23 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 16:23:00-05

PASCO, Fla. — Giving money to panhandlers could end up costing drivers big bucks in Pasco County.

County commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance to make it illegal for drivers to interact with handlers in the roadway.

“It’s a very big issue for the area,” said Commissioner Jack Mariano.

He showed ABC Action News a video of a man walking in the middle of traffic with a sign from a few weeks ago. He showed the video because he said that’s a prime example of the problem, and why the ordinance passed.

Locals like Marty and Julie Polisa support the ordinance, saying they get nervous driving on U.S. 19 because of its reputation, and the panhandlers out there.

“It’s a dangerous road, and it’s dangerous for us to be stopping trying to give them money and stuff,” Julie Polisa said. “There’s also danger for them [panhandlers] because chances are they’re going to get hit by cars.”

Pasco ranks at the top of the links or the most dangerous roads in the state. U.S. 19 is where most of those crashes happen, according to officials. Mariano said panhandling is one of the major causes.

“We’ve had safety issues where people get run over doing it,” he said. “We’ve even had people get accosted in their car for not giving as well.”

According to the ordinance, drivers will be fined if they are caught giving money or interacting with panhandlers in the middle of the road. Panhandlers would also be fined.

“It’s a good thing,” Julie said.

Everyone doesn’t agree. Some say it’s not right to punish drivers for helping people in need. According to commissioners, the goal is not to stop people from giving, but to encourage people to find a safer way to do it.

“It’s important for people to know that they can’t transact business in the right of way,” he said. “This is a good opportunity, also, for us to reach out to panhandlers and let them know there are other options out there for them.”

The county will spend the next 30 days issuing warnings and informing people about the ordinance. Mariano said they will also be giving panhandlers resources to find a job and housing.