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Curfew plan barely squeaks through

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 22, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Council member Jay Lasita says he proposed a St. Petersburg teen curfewordinance because it would keep youths out of danger.

But some residents told the City Council on Thursday that banning juveniles from public places at night is a heavy-handed idea that presumes all teenagers are criminals and would unfairly affect minority teenagers.

"I don't think it can be applied fairly," the Rev. Bruce Wright told the council. "It in fact criminalizes youth in general, including fine, upstanding youth who would do nothing wrong."

The proposed ordinance would ban people under 18 from the public places without a parent between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. weekdays, and from midnight to 6 a.m. on weekends.

Violators would get a warning on first offense and a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 60 days in jail on second offense. There would be exemptions for emergencies, going to work and traveling to or from school functions.

The new ordinance would punish parents with the same penalties for allowing a child to violate the curfew.

Lasita heard support from several residents Thursday. Lorraine Margeson thinks the ordinance would reduce crime and gang activity and control youngsters whose parents have not bothered to keep an eye on them.

"I look at this ordinance in terms of public safety," she said. "Help keep our kids and help keep us safe."

The 20 people who addressed the council were evenly dividing on the issue.

The council seemed split, too. All the members who expressed serious reservations could have killed the ordinance Thursday. But two of those members instead joined the majority who voted for it on first reading, saying they want to hear further discussion.

The second reading, when the idea could become official, will be held in one month.

"If we had to vote finally on it tonight, my vote would be no," said council ChairmanLarry Williams, who is running for mayor in the March election. "It violates people's right to be somewhere at a certain time."

Member Bob Kersteen worried that enforcing the curfew would distract the police from more important duties. But he voted yes Thursday.

Council member Frank Peterman shared the "racial profiling" concerns of many residents who spoke, and he is "dead set against it," and voted no with member Rene Flowers.

Council members Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster support the ordinance.

"When you're under 18, you can't buy tobacco, can't buy pornography," Foster said. "Why should you be on the streets at all hours of the night?"

A similar Pinellas Park curfew ordinance is facing a challenge in the Florida Supreme Court, but that ruling will not come for about a year.

Also Thursday, the City Council:

Decided to let voters elect someone to replace Williams on the council during the March city election. Williams must resign to run for mayor. The council could have chosen to appoint someone to serve the remaining two years of the term.

Declined to sell a well field north of Tampa to the Hillsborough County government to use as a park.

Raised sewer rates 5.5 percent, as part of an ongoing plan to upgrade the aging system, while holding off on a planned 8 percent water rate increase.

Sold a former nursing home building on Dr. M L King (Ninth) Street S for $1 to a non-profit group called Bridges of America to use as a secure drug addiction treatment center.

Decided to meet privately at 9 a.m. Sept. 28 to discuss Bayfront Medical Center's offer to settle the city's lawsuit over Catholic influence at the secular hospital.

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