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Tuesday, Apr 29 2014 04:24 PM

Why firefighters' boot-filling isn't panhandling

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bakersfield firefighter Derek Rodriguez collected money from this motorist during the Fill-The-Boot drive on April 26, 2013. Then she gave her son Derek a kiss. Carol Rodriguez drove by and donated funds for the Central Valley Muscular Dystrophy Association on Stockdale Highway and Gosford Road.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Their events were mentioned in the same conversation as aggressive solicitation last month, but the Bakersfield Fire Department's annual Fill-The-Boot fundraiser Friday and its counterparts statewide were distinguished from panhandling in 2007 by the legislature.

City Attorney Ginny Gennaro highlighted firemen bearing boots, Salvation Army bell ringers and Girl Scouts hawking cookies as examples of solicitation during a March 19 presentation on panhandling to the Bakersfield City Council.

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Off-duty Bakersfield Fire Department personnel will be raising funds for the Central Valley Muscular Dystrophy Association from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at Stockdale Highway and Gosford Road.

Aggressive panhandling is now illegal in Bakersfield, following a unanimous vote April 16 by the Bakersfield City Council.

The council approved a new city ordinance taking effect in mid-May and making "aggressive solicitation" a misdemeanor or an infraction. It also bans all soliciting near banks, credit unions and ATMs, in parking lots and structures after dark, and on medians and public transit.

Dropping a couple bucks at a traffic light into a firefighter-held boot was deemed a legal method of charitable solicitation and approved by both houses of the state legislature and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in late 2007.

Senate Democrat Majority Leader Ellen M. Corbett, D-San Leandro, authored Senate Bill 582 specifically to address threats to boot-passing, a familiar fundraiser for firefighters across Kern County.

It allowed firefighters to " ... engage in a solicitation for charitable purposes that involves persons standing in a public roadway soliciting contributions from passing motorists ... " under certain conditions.

Local panhandling laws were a concern.

" ... there has been a recent increase in local ordinances limiting or prohibiting aggressive begging or panhandling," the Arguments in Support of the bill read. "... such ordinances are so broadly defined they potentially prohibit certain charitable street solicitation activities by firefighters and other legitimate organizations."

Bakersfield's ordinance applies to Girl Scouts and firefighters, Gennaro said March 19 -- but they need not fear.

" ... it's not going to impact them," Gennaro said. "One, they don't aggressively solicit. And I don't know about you, but I've never seen any of them in front of an ATM."

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