The final vote on a Hill County ordinance regulating large group gatherings has been put on hold.
County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said at a public hearing today that the commissioners will extend the public comment time for the ordinance and will consider further testimony on it.
"I don't think we'll let it die. We just want to make it palatable to most people," he said.
The commissioners held a meeting at 10 a.m. today in the Hill County Courthouse Annex meeting room to hear public comment.
Kaerchar made his announcement about extending the time for public comment after hearing testimony in opposition to the current form of the ordinance.
The ordinance would require people to apply for a permit from the county before holding a function with 500 people for eight hours or more, and 1,000 people for any period of time.
The commissioners considered an ordinance in May to require regulation of 350 or more people gathered for three hours or more. After hearing opposition to that ordinance at a public meeting on May 9, the commissioners revised the ordinance to its current form.
Chuck Grant, one of the people who testified at today's meeting, said the ordinance would infringe on his constitutional rights rights of assembly and free speech. The ordinance would give the commissioners an arbitrary ability to regulate who could and couldn't assemble, he added.
Jim Edwards, chair of the Libertarian Party in Hill County, said giving the County Commission the ability to arbitrarily permit or deny group gatherings would set a dangerous precedent. He said the ordinance in its current form sets no objective standards for meeting safety and planning conditions mentioned in the ordinance.
Edwards said he would not oppose automatically granting such a permit if the people holding the group gathering would agree to be bonded for enough money to cover any expense, or if they agreed to repay any additional money spent by the county because of the gathering.
Steve Neiffer agreed that people should be required to pay county expenses caused by gatherings. He said he was concerned about making sure the requirements of the ordinance were applied uniformly, and that it not take away rights of private landowners.
Kaercher said the commissioners would consider Edwards' suggestion about bonding or agreeing to pay expenses. He said the commissioners don't want to take away rights or prevent gatherings, but wants to protect the citizens of Hill County.