‘The whole thing’s unconstitutional:’ City of Jacksonville facing lawsuit for its panhandling law

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The City of Jacksonville is facing a lawsuit for its panhandling law that has been in effect for about a year. This week, Action News Jax has learned a federal judge has denied a motion that would have put a pause on any enforcement until the lawsuit is settled.


So, soliciting or selling something on street corners remains illegal.

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“The Bible says the homeless be with us forever, they will be with us for all of time,” COSAC Foundation and the Homeless Voice Newspaper founder Sean Cononie said. “I think we should be able to feed them if they want to ask for $1 for a sandwich, or a bag of potato chips, even a beer. You know, it shouldn’t matter.”

The COSAC Foundation, an organization that supports the homeless, filed a lawsuit in February claiming the new law violates their first amendment rights of free speech.

Cononie is the founder of the COSAC foundation and of the Homeless Voice Newspaper – an organization that allows homeless people to sell newspapers written by the homeless about the homeless. Cononie says there are about 10 workers in Jacksonville, but they have been out of work since this law took effect last June.

“We’ve never had an accident in Jacksonville, one of our vendors got hurt,” Cononie said. “And we just feel the whole thing’s unconstitutional.”

RELATED: Lawsuit alleges Jacksonville’s anti-panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional

Cononie is fighting the city, claiming this law goes against his free speech. His organization recently filed for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped citations temporarily while the city fights the lawsuit. But on Tuesday, a federal judge filed an order denying it.

“The judge wants to get all the facts in order, so that’s why I was needed an order of injunction at this time,” Cononie said. “There’s a lot of facts that need to be discovered as of yet in discovery. And we’ll go to court. I mean, that’s what we’re going to do. It ain’t our first battle, we usually win these cases.”

In the order, the judge emphasized that while he denied the motion, “this ruling does not predict how the court will ultimately rule.”

Action News Jax Reported In March that there have been at least 700 verbal warnings, 24 citations, and 78 misdemeanors arrests connected to a panhandling violation since the ordinance was enacted last February.

Sergio Mabusi says he hasn’t really noticed a change since the law took effect – saying he sees panhandlers all the time.

RELATED: Jacksonville City Council passes panhandling ban, 30 day grace period begins today

“Underneath the highway overpass, and over there by the entrances to the Walmart Plaza,” Mabusi said.

Mabusi says they bother him at times, but he understands the need.

“I mean everybody’s got to earn a dollar some type of way,” Mabusi said. “So people panhandling, I don’t really see the biggest issue with it. But more, if trying to get some type of help or support, you should go near a shelter or somewhere that is going to offer support instead of just trying to make it by the way of asking other people for money.”

One panhandler Action News Jax Annette Gutierrez spoke with off camera said police approach her all the time, but that doesn’t stop her from being near the roadways.

In the order, the judge set a deadline for the attorneys on each side, to determine the next step in this case. They must file a joint notice by June 7th.

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