Saturday, May 26, 2018

Blasting car stereo? Pay up

Carl Mathews calls them "loud boomers." They play their car stereos so loud that his car shakes when they pull up next to him. For days after, the 79-year-old Riverview man says, the noise haunts him.

"When you get that booming ... for the next several days, you hear nothing but booming," Mathews told Hillsborough County commissioners.

Commissioners heard Mathews and passed a new ordinance Wednesday aimed at banning loud car stereos in unincorporated Hillsborough.

Starting in May, sheriff's deputies can write $150 tickets to people whose cars or motorcycles make any noise "plainly audible" from 50 feet away.

The tickets will be civil infractions — not moving violations — so they will not affect driving records or insurance costs. Despite an under-whelming citizen turnout for Wednesday's public hearing — Mathews was one of just two — sheriff's Col. Greg Brown told commissioners loud car stereos generate "tons" of complaints for his agency.

There used to be a state law against loud car stereos. In 2012, after a challenge from a St. Petersburg lawyer ticketed for blasting Justin Timberlake, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional. The state law exempted vehicles blaring noise for "business or political purposes." Ticketing people who blast music while not ticketing campaign cars blaring political ads broke First Amendment free speech protections, judges concluded.

The new county law models one passed in Tampa last year. The only exceptions are for car horns, sirens and alarms.

Community activist Gerald White told commissioners he hopes deputies use caution while enforcing the new law so it doesn't selectively affect the black community.

"I don't know how many deputies know Jay-Z. I don't know how many deputies know Beyonce," White said. "We're tired of waking up and seeing in the newspaper ... our children are gunned down for no reason."

It was a coincidence Wednesday's vote came days after the controversial verdict in the Michael Dunn trial in Jacksonville. In 2012, after an argument over a loud car stereo, Dunn, who is white, fired several times into a car full of black teenagers, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

"Noise pollution doesn't have any color, race or ethnicity," Commissioner Victor Crist replied to White. "It's just noise pollution."

The ordinance passed 5-0. Commissioners Les Miller and Al Higginbotham were absent.

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