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Archive for Friday, July 9, 2004

Made to be broken?

July 9, 2004

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If laws aren't going to be enforced, they shouldn't be on the books.

Is the Lawrence City Commission making laws or making suggestions? A year ago, commissioners instituted a ban on fireworks in Lawrence, but no one would know it, given the number of people ignoring the ban this Fourth of July. Police reported receiving 300 fireworks complaints last Thursday through Monday. They said they didn't keep track of the number of citations issued, but our guess is it was far lower than 300.

Tuesday night, commissioners approved on final reading an ordinance making it unlawful to leave a dog tethered outside for more than an hour at a time. Even supporters of the measure say that people who don't neglect their animals shouldn't worry about the law; it's intended for people who abuse their dogs or use them for fighting.

Even the new ban on smoking in public places may be the subject of selective enforcement. The head of the city task force that studied the smoking issue said he expected a bar or two in Lawrence would ignore the ban "and nobody will care about it unless there's a complaint."

Why do we have these laws if they aren't going to be consistently enforced?

Commissioners decided to ban fireworks because of the threat of injury and property damage. Does that threat not exist unless someone calls in with a complaint? Three hundred complaints is a lot. Whatever effort is going into enforcing the fireworks ban must not be having much of an effect. If it's not worth enforcing, maybe the city should just eliminate the ban.

The tethering law isn't really aimed at people who simply leave their dogs on a line for more than an hour, but that's how it is written. The commission's discussion seemed to indicate the intent of the law was to use the measure selectively against people who abuse their dogs. If that's the case, the law should be written to target those people and not leave a broad range of dog owners open to complaints and citations.

Time will tell how vigorously the city will enforce the new ban on smoking in enclosed public places. If no complaints are registered, will police simply turn their backs on certain businesses that continue to allow smoking? If the ban is found to have an economic impact on a business, such selective enforcement certainly wouldn't be fair to law-abiding businesses.

City leaders need to ask themselves what their intent is with these laws. If the point of a fireworks ban, a tethering law or a smoking ban is to increase public safety or serve the public good, those laws should be reasonably and consistently enforced. If these laws aren't worth enforcing, maybe they shouldn't be on the books.

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