In Annapolis, You May Need to Whisper While You Work

We'd like to say that new anti-noise regulations offered in Annapolis set off alarm bells. But we worry that those alarm bells might land us in jail.

The proposed "Public Peace, Morals and Welfare" law introduced this week in the city council is aimed at the late-night fun and frolicking on Main Street. Accompanying noise and rowdiness have long irked downtown residents even as businesses prosper.

Mayor Dean Johnson (R) and Ward 1 Alderman Louise Hammond (D), who are teaming up on the plan, say revelers' noise is too much for local residents at home in their pajamas. Their plan would slap penalties of as much as 90 days in jail and $1,000 in fines for a host of street sins: yelling, shouting, hooting, making rude remarks, whistling or singing on or near the public streets so as to unreasonably disturb public peace.

Once more, we don't want to speak too loudly here or, heaven forbid, hoot. (Are owls covered?) But a "reasonable" communication to one Annapolitan might, to another, be lunatic howling. From what we know so far, we can say, softly, that Annapolis' first bill of 1999 may turn out to be its worst.

To begin with, politicians ought to understand that their approval rating dips every time they try to legislate morality. This plan brazenly calls itself a morals law.

Second, it is replete with constitutional red-flags that will take time and resources to sort out. The bill, for instance, takes aim at certain car-honking and car security alarms. But who's to tell me it's illegal to honk at a darting squirrel that police don't see or that I'm banned from guarding my SUV against auto theft? One fellow's fine sub-woofers are another's pounding bass from hell.

And what about loud times at Naval Academy functions? If I work the third shift at 7-Eleven and cannons at touchdown time wake me when I'm trying to get some sleep, do I have a beef? What if I want to crank up a car tape of Rush Limbaugh at midnight and yell "mega-dittoes" when Rush denounces liberal mush-brains? Should I be escorted to jail? (Immediately and your tape confiscated.)

Courts have said that municipalities can enact reasonable "time, place and manner" restrictions. But this bill is overly broad and leaves too much discretion - therefore, too much potential for abuse.

Forces in Annapolis already have tried to diminish rights of protesters by saying that organizers must pay if city services come into play. (That legislation is being rewritten.) But what if I don't have any money? Does that mean my freedoms of speech and assembly stop at the city limits? If so, let's print up some signs warning people what freedom around here costs.

As much as we'd like, we can't return to the days when Annapolis was a quaint little village out of a Marion Warren photo. Annapolis, by virtue of geography, is a city weirdly short on "main drags." There aren't many streets and locales where young adults can cruise and gather to be seen.

And there's not much time to waste when issues such as transportation, housing, education and crime are banging at the city council's doors.

| Issue 2 |

VolumeVII Number 2
January 14-20, 1999
New Bay Times
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