But the battle was pretty much officially decided two weeks ago when ailing Council chair Charlie Miranda left his sick bed to cast a vote on a six-day partial ban.
Today, with Miranda and Lisa Montelione absent, the council voted 4-1 to make the law official on November 1. Newspaper hawkers and those who distribute literature will be exempt. The city's top 10 dangerous intersections — which include sections of Bruce B. Downs, Fowler and Hillsborough avenues — will also be off-limits to everyone. Acting Council chair Mary Mulhern was the lone dissenter.
Tampa Police Capt. Keith O'Connor said officers during the first week of November will go on an education offensive to explain the law. "The fact of the matter is we don't want to put people in jail," he said moments after the deciding vote.
O'Connor said TPD officers will issue warnings and take down the information of those who are cited for solicitation the first time around. The second time a person is cited, he or she would be subject to arrest. "If he meets the criteria, he's going to get a criminal charge," O'Connor said, adding that criteria is defined as having identification and being a resident of Hillsborough County. "If you don't have that, then you'll have to go down [to police headquarters] and get booked." The violation would be a misdemeanor.
The council's vote ends an agonizing public debate that dominated the City Council for the last year. The issue was front and center during the mayoral and council campaign that took place last winter, with only two of the 33 people on the ballot resisting a ban of any sort.
One of the council members who did bend before the election to support a partial ban, acting chair Mary Mulhern, has been the most outspoken member against "criminalizing poverty," and two weeks ago she almost was able to postpone the vote again when she said that Roberts Rules of Order dictated that council members could not participate by telephone.
Upon hearing that, chair Charlie Miranda, one of the two candidates who never supported any such ban during the campaign, said that the argument had gone on too long and had been hoping to vote by phone. He ended up going to the meeting, looking and sounding very much like he was still ill. As it turned out, his vote was not needed to change course, as two earlier holdouts, Yolie Capin and Frank Reddick, said their concerns had been addressed regarding allowing newspapers to be sold all seven days, insuring that the African-American owned and operated Florida Sentinel-Bulletin, in addition to the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times, would be able to sell their papers on the streets.
In addition to some of the same faces who have spoken out on the issue before council over the past year were some new people, including a handful of members of Occupy Tampa, who had filled the council chambers for a discussion on their situation with the police in Curtis Hixon Park. However, because public comment was limited, many of those people left after being told that the issue would be brought up later in the day.
One of those who stayed around and spoke out against the proposed ban was USF student Clayton Carlton, who said after hearing earlier about the police resources used to crack down on a nightclub in Ybor City, that the police were going to be diverted from that important work to crack down on poor people just trying to make a buck.
Former City Councilman Joseph Caetano, who lost his bid for re-election to Lisa Montelione earlier this year, came before the council and referenced the fact that two years ago, he had been the first on the board to call for a panhandling ban - which never received a second vote. But like nearly everyone else who supports the ban, he also said that far more must be done about the homeless situation.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a strong supporter of such a ban, is expected to sign the new law anytime now.