Leon County Set to Vote on “Anti-Soliciting” Ordinance

Leon County is set to vote on a proposed ordinance that would criminalize what the ordinance defines as “solicitation” on private property.

On Tuesday, the Leon County Board of County Commissioners will hear Agenda Item #26, the “First and Only Public Hearing to Consider Adopting the Proposed Ordinance Prohibiting Unauthorized Solicitation on Private Property.”

The ordinance defines solicitation as, “the act of requesting in person from another person something of value, whether tangible or intangible, by using words, body gestures, signs, or other means.

The broad definition includes, but is not limited to, requesting “petition signatures, support of any kind, money, donations of any kind, or some other action, article, or material of value.” Anyone convicted of violating the ordinance faces a fine up to $500 and/or 60 days in jail.

The Leon County Democratic Party decried the proposition on the grounds that it would criminalize gathering petition signatures.

“A proposed ordinance would criminalize gathering petitions in many places — a common right currently enjoyed by the public most everywhere — and discourage volunteer canvassing, a fundamental civic function in a healthy democracy,” wrote Ryan Ray, chair of the Leon Democratic Party, on a public Facebook post.

“Moves like this diminish the public square and concentrate more electoral power in the hands of big campaign donors,” Ray continued.

The all-Democratic Commission has taken measures in recent years seemingly targeting unhoused residents of Leon County, however, questions remain regarding their effectiveness.

Commissioner Brian Welch faced criticism last year after eleven signs were erected around Leon County instructing drivers to refrain from giving money to people on road medians, “for your safety and theirs.”

“Many of these individuals are suffering from substance abuse and mental illness and the funds they receive from panhandling only exacerbate these problems,” Welch said at the time on Twitter. He echoed the signs’ call to action, encouraging Leon County residents to donate to the Big Bend Continuum of Care, an organization whose website states, “Big Bend CoC does not provide direct client services. Rather, we support those who serve the homeless.”

The County Board of Commissioners is not alone in taking action against Leon County residents in poverty. Last summer, the Tallahassee Democrat reported that within a span of several weeks, the Tallahassee Police Department had arrested nine people for soliciting on a median, including a 61 year-old man. The August 23, 2023 report quoted police officials, who stated the arrests were a direct result of an increase in panhandling.

As an analysis of the arrests revealed, “There have been more arrests in the last two months alone than over the last five years combined.”

Multiple County Commissioners including David O’Keefe have expressed opposition to the measure, as has Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow. The measure has been supported by the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.

“I continue to be concerned about recent directions of the majority of our City and County Commissioners,” said Akin Akinyemi, Leon County Property Appraiser and former County Commissioner.

“Today’s county commission Agenda Item #26 that dehumanizes homeless people and criminalizes issue advocacy, is misguided,” Akinyemi continued.

“There are better ways to protect private property rights than casting a broad net that suppresses civil liberty, a key foundation of our democracy. This ordinance also gives advantage to political candidates with big money backers over those that rely on door-to-door canvassing,” concluded Akinyemi.

This story has been updated with a quotation from Leon County Property Appraiser Akin Akinyemi

 

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