[Hpn] Next Republican casualty? Try the First Amendment...

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 06 Feb 2001 17:02:42 -0700


Posted at 6:30 a.m. EST Tuesday, February 6, 2001

Cities, solicitors battling for streets

You may have met Rose Ortega. She's the one in the bright orange T-shirt who
tries to pass you a Homeless Voice newspaper for a donation to Broward's

Rose is 24, a mother, and homeless. For the past seven months, she has sold
the Homeless Voice on street corners while she tries to beat the drug
addiction that helped land her in jail.

But increasingly, South Florida cities, in the name of vendor safety, are
limiting solicitation on public rights-of-way and the way newspapers are
sold on their streets.

Aventura is poised to pass a ban today that keeps solicitors off the city's
busiest roads. It's following the lead of Weston, which passed a similar
ordinance last year. Because the Aventura ban only applies to the most
dangerous intersections, its city attorney -- and several legal scholars --
believe it passes constitutional muster.

Other cities will probably follow. Last May, an all-out ban on street
vendors was narrowly defeated in Hollywood because of First Amendment
violation fears.

For years, many cities also have said the rows of newspaper vending machines
that line intersections are an eyesore and a traffic hazard as well since
they block side-street sight lines. In recent years, Palm Beach, Fort
Lauderdale, Hollywood, Coral Gables and others have passed laws regulating
vending machines. The city of Miami may be next.

Street hawking has become the latest battleground -- exacerbated by the
newcomer Homeless Voice, whose orange-clad hawkers assault intersections in
eights as compared to the smaller Herald and Sun-Sentinel groups.

``You get too many people out on the street just like you have too many
racks on street corners, and it drives a wave of ordinances,'' said Tom
Cardozo, Herald single-copy sales manager for Broward.

Robert Beatty, Herald general counsel, said the paper is actively fighting
the Miami vending machine ordinance, though it hasn't decided if it will
challenge the hawker bans.

``To the extent that a municipality creates and enforces an ordinance that
impinges on our Constitutional rights, we will challenge it,'' Beatty said.

Cities are allowed to regulate the time, place and manner of protected
speech, as long as it's not prohibited. The fine line between protection and
prohibition is decided case-by-case.

At issue is the perception that wealthy cities are smoking out undesirables.

``This is absolutely a reaction of affluent communities against people of
less means,'' said Jamie Benjamin, an American Civil Liberties Union
sponsored attorney and a First Amendment expert. ``They don't want people
with orange T-shirts and missing teeth in their neighborhood, and they'll do
anything to get them out.''

The cities counter that hawking is a hazard.

``Any time we allow someone in traffic, it's going to get our people hurt,''
Aventura Mayor Arthur I. Snyder said.

Homeless advocates say these new laws put at risk the livelihood of hundreds
of hawkers and panhandlers across South Florida.

``We can't let other cities follow Weston, because they'll wipe us off the
streets,'' said Sean Cononie, executive director of the Homeless Voice, a
40,000 circulation bimonthly. ``This is not about safety. In Weston, they
took us off safe streets.''

Not only do Homeless Voice proceeds support Hollywood-based Helping People
in America, hawking is part of the shelter's treatment program. ``They go
from chronic homeless to newspaper salesman to steady employment,'' Cononie

If Aventura bans hawkers, Cononie said he will send his hawkers to
Aventura's more residential roads. As a kind of prelude, a half-dozen
homeless hawkers were stationed outside Williams Island last Wednesday.

Jay R. Beskin, one of two commissioners on Aventura's seven-member
commission who opposes the anti-vendor law, told Cononie that day, ``I guess
I'll see you in court -- or in front of the islands.''

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