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Lawsuit claims Ocala panhandling ordinances violate right to free speech

Ocala City Hall. Photo: City of Ocala via Facebook
Ocala City Hall. Photo: City of Ocala via Facebook

Ocala is being sued again over local laws affecting homeless people.

This time, the Southern Legal Counsel and ACLU of Florida are challenging the city's panhandling ordinances.

The lawyers represent six Ocala-area residents. Four of them are homeless, and several have disabilities.

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Ocala City Hall. Photo: City of Ocala via Facebook[/caption]

All together, they have spent 209 days in jail and been assessed fines and fees of nearly $8,000 dollars for panhandling.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court Monday. It says the city is violating their constitutionally protected free speech. An ACLU lawyer says that includes "the right to ask for help in public spaces."

It seeks compensation and an order preventing Ocala from enforcing those laws.

The same groups, plus local lawyer Andrew Pozzuto, successfully challenged the city's open lodging law. And last month the City Council modified the ordinance.

Ocala police can no longer arrest people for sleeping outside just because they're homeless.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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