Panhandle With Care

In an action well noted by Tampa officials and residents of Ybor City, Lakeland has passed an ordinance making it legal to tell pushy panhandlers to take a hike or face arrest. Seemingly, downtown merchants are as pleased as the resident homeless who are also unnerved by some newly arrived, aggressive panhandlers.

Such ordinances, however ultimately necessary, are always dicey legal gambits — protected speech under the First Amendment-type stuff. Moreover, they sometimes can have unintended, ironic results.

In a Tampa Tribune story last week, a homeless Lakeland man underscored the dilemma. “If they stop us from panhandling,” noted Johnnie May, “people are just going to refrain back to stealing.”

Should Lakeland officials hear more such refrains, they may also want to have extortion statutes at the ready.

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