When the chips are really down and an individual has no other way to pay for food or shelter, panhandling can become something of a profession. Governments understand this, and some have rules and laws in place to regulate the practice.
The Kissimmee, Florida, city code defines panhandling as approaching someone to request “an immediate donation of money or other thing of value.” The Florida statutes refer to the act as solicitation. Depending on where you do it, when you do it and whether you have a permit, it’s sometimes perfectly legal.
Overlapping state and municipal laws cover the act of panhandling. At the city level, many Florida municipalities, particularly those with heavy tourist trades, have implemented ordinances that prohibit solicitation in certain areas within city limits.
St. Petersburg has established no-panhandling zones to prohibit the practice in downtown commercial areas, as well as near banks or ATMs, at bus stops and on public transportation vehicles. Kissimmee’s municipal code covers the same areas, but it does not include specific mention of other commercial zones. Orlando used to require that panhandlers remain standing inside blue marks on the sidewalk, but that changed in late 2017. The city also changed its code to allow individuals to panhandle in groups larger than two people.
Because local rules can vary – sometimes significantly – visit city hall before you seek donations to find out what’s permissible and where it’s allowed within a particular city’s limits.
At the state level, Florida’s panhandling statutes are largely focused on roadways. It’s illegal to obstruct or impede traffic on Florida highways, streets or roads with the intention of soliciting. Doing so is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, or up to 60 days in jail.
In addition to outlawing panhandling in certain areas, some cities also prohibit it at certain times. In St. Petersburg, you’re within the law if you follow all the other rules, as well as refrain from solicitation from sundown to sunup. In other words, it’s not legal after dark.
In Kissimmee, it’s illegal to wear a military uniform while panhandling, or to imply that you’re from out of town and you’re stranded. You can’t say you’re homeless if you’re not, or give the appearance of being disabled if you suffer no infirmity. You can’t follow someone who says, "No," or encroach within three feet of anyone to ask for donations. Acting in an aggressive manner or using profanity is typically prohibited.
Panhandling with a Permit
Some Florida municipalities issue panhandling permits in an effort to control the practice. Orlando was the first city in the country to do this. Even the state offers permits to certain charities or anyone acting on the charity’s behalf. Permits don’t give you free rein – you still have to operate within the laws – and in most cases, you’re prohibited from asking for money if you don’t have a permit. In Kissimmee, permits are free and cite your identifying information such as your name and details of your physical appearance like your hair and eye color.
Panhandling is a second degree misdemeanor in Florida, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. But some cities allow it within certain guidelines.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.