Suit: JAX anti-panhandling law unconstitutional

By Robert Grant | March 4, 2024
Action News Jax

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A new federal lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville argues an ordinance meant to crack down on panhandling is instead unconstitutional.

“They’re not bums. They’re people. They just need a little help,” Sean Cononie, founder of The Homeless Voice, said.

It’s why he started the paper, which hires those who are homeless. They also use the street corners to hand out their product and get donations.

“It actually gets the homeless person back into the swing of ‘oh I’m working’ and it helps them follow rules,” Cononie said.

According to a new lawsuit filed in federal court, Jacksonville’s anti-panhandling ordinance targets the organization’s staff by infringing on their First Amendment right. The lawsuit said staff “faces a continuing threat of citation and arrest for its solicitation activities, and has suffered damages”.

Action News Jax reported last week that there have been at least 700 verbal warnings, 24 citations, and 78 misdemeanors arrests connected to a panhandling violation since the ordinance was enacted last February.

You can apply for a permit under the ordinance, but it’s for a max of six days a year. According to the lawsuit it “effectively banning charitable solicitation for 359 days of the year”.

“When you have a mom-and-pop charity trying to start off, they need to be able to raise funds,” Cononie said.

According the lawsuit, The Homeless Voice stopped using the median to distribute its papers since June of last year. Cononie said the staff always wore bright yellow shirts and only interacted with drivers when the car was stopped at a red light.

In a statement, Mayor Donna Deegan said, “It’s up to the courts to sort out the constitutionality of Jacksonville’s panhandling ordinance. If we’re going to ask people to not be on the street, we need the services available to support them. That’s why our administration is focused on creating programs that address chronic homelessness and keeping people from becoming homeless.”

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