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Largo shies away from banning loud car stereos

LARGO — The "boom boom boom" of a heavy bass beat is incredibly annoying to some people — especially when the sound is blasting out of a car on the road.

In recent months, Tampa and Brooksville have passed ordinances requiring drivers to turn down the volume on thundering car stereos or pay a fine.

Some Largo officials are interested in doing the same thing, but there's not enough political support for a loud stereo ban in Largo.

"I drive down the road with my stereo up and my hair blowing in the wind," joked City Commissioner Jamie Robinson, who sports a buzz cut. He and other board members made it clear at last week's commission meeting that they view loud car stereos as a brief, temporary nuisance.

"If you're driving by a house … you're past it in two seconds. I understand that it might bother you for that two seconds. But that's it and it's gone," Robinson said. "If somebody's sitting at an intersection, you're there for two minutes and it's over with."

But City Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who raised the issue at City Hall, rejected the notion that the noise is a temporary problem.

"When you have 20 or 30 'temporaries' a day go by your house at 3 o'clock in the morning, when you've got your change rattling on your dresser because some moron is driving down the road with the blaster so loud it sounds like a jet engine, you may think differently about this," Holmes told his colleagues.

"We really need to address this because I am not the Lone Ranger on this thing," Holmes added. "There are plenty of folks who are really chapped about this."

However, most Largo commissioners heeded the advice of their attorney, who warned them that Largo might be sued if it passed such a law.

"This is an area of extensive litigation. … I don't want you to be surprised if we get sued," said City Attorney Alan Zimmet. "It is expensive to defend those (lawsuits). They are frequently appealed."

Zimmet noted that other Florida cities have adopted such laws, but no Florida appeals courts have ruled on the legality of these cases. He also said loud music is a First Amendment issue, which could drag the city into federal court.

"I don't want you to be surprised if we are spending money to defend the ordinance in court," he told commissioners.

The state of car stereo laws in Florida has been in flux since a Florida Supreme Court decision in December.

The high court struck down a state law regulating noise from car stereos. Justices ruled that the statute was unconstitutional because it prohibited certain forms of speech while permitting others.

The law in question prohibited drivers from playing a car stereo or other device so loudly that it was "plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more." However, it made an exception for vehicles that are used "for business or political purposes."

This spring, the Legislature considered a bill to make the state's law comply with the court's decision, but it didn't pass.

Tampa's ordinance outlawing loud car stereos targets drivers whose music is plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet. Fines are $150 for a first offense, $300 for a second offense and $450 for a third offense.

Brooksville reinstated its car stereo ordinance, which the city had suspended two years ago while the Florida Supreme Court considered the law's validity. To bypass constitutional issues, Brooksville removed language in its ordinance that made exceptions for business or political purposes.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151.

Largo shies away from banning loud car stereos 11/25/13 [Last modified: Monday, November 25, 2013 6:37pm]
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