2009-11-05 / Local & State

ACLU Criticizes Proposed Pa. Nuisance Ordinance

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – A civil liberties group says a central Pennsylvania college town’s plan to hold party hosts responsible for any illegal activities of guests would be unconstitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a Friday letter to State College that the proposed “nuisance gathering ordinance’’ slated for a hearing Monday night “runs roughshod over and through well-established constitutional rights.’’ If it is approved, the organization will entertain requests to challenge it in court, the ACLU letter said.

Council President Elizabeth Goreham said Saturday that the organization’s stand “casts a shadow over that ordinance and we really need to look for another way – this is apparently not the way.’’

Police chief Tom King told council members that the proposed ordinance was modeled upon similar ones adopted recently in Bloomsburg and East Lansing, home of Michigan State University. King did not immediately return a message left Sunday.

Under the proposal, the host of a gathering of 10 or more people could be subject to summary offense fines from $300 to $600 or 30 days in jail if the gathering results in certain illegal activities within 100 feet. They include excessive noise, fights, obscene conduct, underage drinking, public drunkenness, criminal mischief, drug-dealing or lewdness.

The ACLU called the ordinance “overbroad’’ and said it would bar constitutionally protected activities such as political and religious meetings that may inadvertently result in illegal activities. For example, hosts of a pre-election meeting could be found in violation if a political opponent outside shouts and throws handbills, the group said.

“You simply can’t criminalize someone for just having a party,’’ ACLU staff attorney Valerie Burch said Saturday.

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