South Miami takes aim at panhandling, trespassing

The South Miami City Commission will consider on Tuesday two ordinances that would restrict panhandling and bolster the city’s trespassing laws. The first would make it unlawful to panhandle, “by trick or fraud,” or to help someone violate the ordinance. It would also prohibit panhandling while trespassing on private or public property.

The second ordinance would define and prohibit trespassing on private and public property, including entering or loitering on city property where the public is not normally invited without the city’s permission, or entering city property without permission and refusing to leave after being warned. The ordinance gives the city manager the power to designate which areas of city property the public is not allowed or where there are time restrictions on when the public can be there.

Trespassing is already illegal under state law.

Violators of the proposed ordinances would be considered trespassers. They could also be fined up to $500, imprisoned for up to six months or both — the city code’s general penalty.

Bobbie Ibarra, executive director of the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, said she did not know what the city was implying by “trick or fraud,” and wondered if charities that solicit funds would be included under the definition of panhandling. She also said that the majority of people who panhandle are not necessarily homeless. If the ordinance was targeted at the homeless, Ibarra said that she didn’t think criminalization was the right approach and that enforcement could be costly.

Baylor Johnson, spokesman for the ACLU of Florida, wrote in a statement to the Miami Herald, “The language of the ordinances is troubling enough, because it is overly broad and vague, but the real danger posed by these ordinances is primarily in how – and against whom – they are enforced.” Johnson added that seemingly neutral laws can be used to single out and target the homeless.

“Instead of pushing homeless persons into the criminal justice system, the city would probably be better served by finding solutions to the root causes of homelessness in the first place,” Johnson wrote. “If these ordinances pass, we will be watching closely what happens in South Miami to make sure that nobody’s rights, regardless of whether they’re rich or poor, are being violated.”

Earlier this year, the city of Sarasota was ordered by a judge to stop enforcing a trespass ordinance that the ACLU said was being used by Sarasota police to target the city’s homeless. Sarasota subsequently passed an ordinance in April that prohibits soliciting funds along public roads.

Both South Miami ordinances were submitted by Vice Mayor Joshua Liebman, who did not return phone calls seeking comment. Both ordinances are on their first reading, and will need a second reading for final approval.

The commission will also consider final approval of a ban on using, or causing to be used, gas-powered leaf-blowers within 50 feet of any residence or commercial outdoor dining area.

That ordinance, which would also restrict when noisy lawn equipment can be used, was deferred at the last meeting after questions about how the law would be enforced. The new draft includes provisions to notice violators by mail and provides for a fine of up to $500, six months imprisonment or both.

Also on the agenda is the approval of the city manager’s contract.

South Miami City Hall is located at 6130 Sunset Drive, and Tuesday’s commission meeting begins at 7 p.m.

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