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Leaders support relaxing curfew rules

(ran EAST, WEST, SEMINOLE editions)

Had the new members of the city's Youth Advisory Council stuck around for the end of the City Commission meeting shortly before midnight Tuesday, they could have been pulled over on their way home for violation of the city's controversial curfew.

But under a new, more lenient _ and more legally defensible _ version of the curfew under consideration, they might have been able to hurry home just under the wire.

That's because one of the proposed changes would revise the start time of the curfew from 11 p.m. to midnight on weekdays.

Other proposed changes include allowing youths with permission slips from their parents to stay out past the curfew, reducing the fine for violating the curfew from the current maximum of $500 to $50 and ending the curfew at 5 instead of 6 a.m.

The changes were approved by a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Mary Laurance casting the lone vote in opposition. Laurance maintains the curfew is government improperly taking over the responsibilities of parents. Commissioners will vote a final time Nov. 20.

"It's a little less than we were hoping for, but something is better than nothing," said police Chief Lester Aradi. "The commissioners have given us the resources to effectively help parents raise their children."

The Largo curfew was based on one enacted in Pinellas Park. Enforcement of that curfew was suspended in May while an appeals court decides whether the ordinance is constitutional. A lower court already ruled the ordinance unconstitutional.

While Pinellas Park officials await the outcome of the appeal, they apparently have no intention of changing the ordinance before a decision is made, said Pinellas Park City Manager Jerry Mudd.

The Largo curfew now prohibits anyone younger than 18 to be in a public place between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. during the week and between midnight and 6 a.m. on weekends. The curfew also allows police to round up unsupervised young people during school hours.

Aradi said police still enforce the curfew, driving violators home or calling their parents. But they stopped arresting people caught breaking the curfew after a youth challenged the law as unconstitutional. The city dropped the curfew charges against the teenager, who Aradi said faced other charges.

The revisions are designed to strengthen the ordinance should it be challenged again. City Attorney Alan Zimmet said it will.

"By doing this, I believe your ordinance will be much more defensible if challenged in the future," Zimmet said.

Several commissioners initially opposed the curfew but were swayed by overwhelming public support for it.

"I just think everyone cannot be wrong," said Commissioner Pat Burke. "I'm going to vote in favor of this. It's going to protect the children as much as those who they might victimize."

"This is not a punishment," said Largo resident Bob Savilla, who presented the City Commission with a petition signed by 272 people who support the curfew. "This is something that could possible keep them out of jail or gang fights.

"It's there to help senior residents who are out late, so that they are not going to be harassed by these kids," he said.

Commissioner Pat Gerard said she has talked to a number of parents who have trouble controlling their kids and want the curfew.

"There are a lot of rights kids don't have until they're 18 or 21, and this will be one of them,' Gerard said.

Rules in the works

The following are the changes proposed for Largo's youth curfew:

Youths with permission slips from their parents would be able to stay out past the curfew.

Fines would be reduced from the current maximum of $500 to $50.

The curfew would begin at midnight instead of 11 p.m. on weekdays. It's already midnight on weekends. The curfew would expire at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m.