Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Council Holds Tougher Open Container Law

Pittsburgh City Council has decided to sit on a bill that would have stiffened fines for open container law violations. Last year, council upped the fine for a first offense from $50 to “A fine not exceeding $200” but Councilman Bruce Kraus says that was apparently not enough. He says police officers approached him asking for more teeth to be put in the legislation. They told him that they were arresting offenders and magistrates were handing out small fines or no fine at all. The officers said the offenders were “right back at it the next week.” Council was to debate and take a preliminary vote on the bill today but just as the meeting was starting council members were handed a letter from Magisterial District Judge Richard King and signed by several other magistrates asking that they not lose their ability to set a fine based on the offender’s circumstances. The letter also opined that such an ordinance would illegally tie the hands of the judges. Kraus responds that King is turning the offender into a victim. He says, “if you can’t afford the fine, don’t do it.” Krauss says this is not just an issue on the south side, which is part of his district. He says when the fine was increased last year an officer reported that 75 open container law violations are written each year in Oakland and the officers that first approached him about needing a tougher law were from the north side. Council will take up the bill again in two weeks while the city solicitors reviews the verbiage.

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