Orlando votes to give panhandlers more freedom

City does away with designated blue boxes

ORLANDO, Fla. – The city of Orlando voted Monday to change its panhandling laws.

A law passed in 2010 created 27 blue spray-painted boxes around downtown as places for panhandlers to legally ask for money. Those boxes, however, limited free speech, according to recent court rulings.

"Due to U.S. Supreme Court decisions, panhandling ordinances throughout the U.S. have come under additional scrutiny and have made it difficult for the city to enforce its current ordinances," the city said last month.

To avoid even the slightest possibility of a lawsuit and for what it believes is the city's best practice, the Orlando City Council voted Monday night to take the blue boxes away. The city will now allow panhandling at any time, a change from the previous 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. time frame.

"You mean, I don't have to sit on the street corner and be a spectacle anymore?" asked panhandler Gary Lohman, who didn't know about the vote. "Wow, I can go sit in the shade somewhere."

But he can't go everywhere.

Monday night's vote came with restrictions. The city voted that a person can be arrested if they ask for money at an ATM or from a "captive audience," such as people eating at a restaurant or concertgoers.

The city also voted to ban anybody from giving or receiving anything in the roadways, including at traffic stops and highway exits.

Since many of the panhandlers didn't know about the new revised ordinance, Orlando police said they plan to first educate the public on what the new rules and restrictions are, while also making sure they are training their officers as well.

"Chief Mina is looking to implement it gradually, as educating the public is always favorable, but not mandatory. We are creating flyers to educate solicitors, like school groups and such. We are also conducting internal training to inform our officers of the new ordinance," Orlando Police Department public information officer Michelle Guido said.

Watch News 6 for more on this story.

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