If Lake Wales Ordinance 2020-31 passes after a public hearing on Jan. 5, Lake Wales Police Department officers would soon have to arrest anyone who tries to panhandle for money.
Those arrested would be fined up to $500 and also face the possibility of incarceration for up to 60 days if the ordinance is passed.
“The city commission further finds that any person who intentionally blocks the passage of another person or a vehicle which requires another person to take evasive action to avoid physical contact constitutes a threat to the public health, welfare and safety of the citizenry,” the ordinance reads, in part.
Lake Wales City Commissioner Al Goldstein proposed the ordinance on Oct. 20 after being approached by a panhandler outside of a store.
“You don't know if you are going to be attacked,” Goldstein said. “You put your hand in your pocket to take out a dollar and they might chop your hand off for the money in your other pocket.”
The proposal has not been discussed in public again since. The proposal was brought up again during a workshop on Dec. 9.
All of the city commissioners made statements indicating support for the proposed ordinance during the workshop, but Goldstein expressed the most emotion.
Goldstein said he and his wife were having dinner on Park Avenue with friends one night and on the way out to the car, a man begged him for money.
“I told him to 'get lost' — that was my words to him — and he did,” Goldstein said. “I think that we need to enforce (the ordinance) and make sure that when it is enforced that they do stay in jail for at least the 60 days that are on here.”
“I don't know if we have a legal right to do that, but it's getting worse on the street, and especially today when people are suffering, not having jobs and all this," he continued. "We need to make sure our streets are safe for everybody.”
The public hearing on the ordinance could be as early as Jan. 5.