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City Hall Notebook: Curfew Reform Moves to Final Vote

P. Kenneth Burns/WYPR

The Baltimore City Council gave preliminary approval Monday to a bill to revamp the city's 20 year old curfew law and set a final vote for its next meeting in June.

The vote was 12-2 with Councilman Bill Cole absent from Monday's meeting.

The proposal from Councilman Brandon Scott, would have children under the age of 17 be at home by 11:00 p.m. with earlier times on school nights.  Children 13 and under must be in by 9:00 p.m. when school is in session while those ages 14-16 must be in by 10:00 p.m.

The bill was amended to expand the school day curfew.  Kids are not allowed on the streets from 7:30 a.m to 3:00 p.m. unless they are going to school.  The original bill expanded the bill to 8:00 a.m.

The bill holds parents responsible for children being out after curfew. They are subject to citations after the first offense and fines as high as $500 and community service for subsequent offenses.

Branch voted against moving the bill to final vote. He said other agencies should be involved as well as police.  Councilman Carl Stokes also voted no.  He said social workers should be involved instead of using police action to help youth.

"We need to have family services on the streets in the evenings," said Stokes. "These young people that are on the streets at this time are either, in many cases, homeless or victims of neglect."

The Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union argued in a letter to the council that the proposal is unconstitutional and that similar laws have not been proven to keep children safe.

"The proposal significantly infringes upon fundamental parental rights by depriving parents of discretion to raise their children in ways that make sense for the family," wrote ACLU Staff Attorney Sonia Kumar.

The ACLU did not attend a hearing that took place last Tuesday. Officials said they learned of the hearing only hours before it took place. Kumar complained after Monday’s council meeting about the scheduling of the hearing. It was originally scheduled in December, canceled, then added to the calendar.

"The way the meeting was noticed and scheduled has not encouraged meaningful public discussion," Kumar said.

Scott said that the hearing was publicized properly ahead of time.

"The hearing was announced in a public forum.  It's also been tweeted out by me; sent out on Facebook by me and even emailed out," said Scott who added other advocacy groups knew about the hearing.

The councilman who represents Northeast Baltimore said while opponents of the bill have valid points; he is looking at it from a different perspective.

"We have to do something to take these young kids off the street; to get them in a safe environment but also make the connections to make them and their families better."

Scott said the combination of his curfew reform bill and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's proposed youth connection centers will help connect families with social services if they are in trouble.