LAKE WORTH BEACH, Fla. — The City of Lake Worth Beach is stepping back on two panhandling ordinances over concerns of litigation.
After a lot of comments and controversy in recent weeks, Lake Worth Beach city commissioners moved forward with repealing two panhandling ordinances during their meeting Tuesday night.
The first ordinance targeted so-called "right of way panhandling" which is commonly seen at the I-95 exit ramps by 6th and 10th Avenues in Lake Worth Beach.
The other ordinance banned so-called "aggressive panhandling," but law enforcement officers say it’s difficult to enforce.
"If there are cities that have these types of ordinances they just haven't been sued yet,” said Glen Torcivia, city attorney for Lake Worth Beach. “That's really the truth because every city that has been sued that we know about has lost.”
Torcivia says the ordinances would likely be struck down in federal court.
He also said similar ordinances have also been repealed in surrounding cities.
The city of Lake Worth Beach was one of the last cities in our area with laws against panhandling. And with a lawsuits and legal fees piling up against them, council members voted in favor of tossing out the current ordinances.
One of them targeted "right of way" panhandling, which is commonly seen at the I-95 exit ramps in Lake Worth Beach.
The other banned "aggressive panhandling."
The issue other municipalities have seen in court is it's a violation of constitutional rights.
"The law is a restriction on the freedom of speaking, and it needs to come down," said Maura Plante, whose organization, Living Hungry, supports homeless children and their families.
Plante said there are nearly 200 kids in Lake Worth Beach schools who are homeless and in need of food, and arresting people is not the answer.
"I would recommend supporting these people so they don’t have to stand on the corner and ask for help," Plante said.
But some local businesses on Lake Avenue see it differently.
"The ordinances that’s in place should stay in place, not take it away," said Francine Barnes, who often gives people money on her way home.
However, without enforcement downtown Barnes fears it could impact business.
"If we have a lot of them out on the streets, of course it would deter customers coming in here," Barnes said.
Lake Worth City leaders feel similarly. The mayor said they should now look for alternatives to address the issue.
"My concern is more for the downtown businesses. I don't know the solution, but that is where we need to focus," Mayor Betty Resch said.