Hill County commissioners delay a decision until this afternoon.
By Ross Markman
More than 20 people attended today's Hill County Commission meeting hoping to hear a decision on a proposed ordinance that would establish a curfew for the county.
The decision and the people will have to wait.
Meeting at 10 a.m. for the ordinance's second reading, the commissioners said they would make their judgment at 3 p.m. today, giving the public a chance to submit additional documentation supporting or opposing the ordinance. If adopted, the curfew would take effect in 30 days.
"This ordinance is a mirror of what (Havre's) curfew ordinance is. It's for all minors under the age of 13," Commissioner Pat Conway told the crowd.
Havre's curfew for kids ages 14 to 18 is 12:30 a.m. on weekends and 10:30 p.m. on weekdays. For children 13 and under, it's 10:30 p.m. on weekends and 9:30 p.m. on weekdays. The times haven't changed since the curfew's inception in 1964.
Several people in attendance, from nearby Gildford, expressed their distaste for the suggested curfew, which would affect all unincorporated areas of Hill County.
"I have a problem with who this will effect, those who aren't underage drinking and vandalizing," said Gildford resident Crystal Faldalen. "Vandalism and underage drinking are punishable on their own."
Faldalen, 20, attended the meeting with her mom, Laura Federspiel, and grandfather, Mert Freyholtz. The three are among of number of Gildford residents opposed to the ordinance, which Faldalen said is "kind of vague."
Havre Assistant Police Chief Mark Stolen said the ordinance is written vaguely for a reason to give officers latitude.
"But I'm afraid that with the police discretion, what's going to be considered a legitimate place of recreation?" Faldalen said. "Who's going to decide who gets a ticket and who doesn't?"
Violating the county curfew would be punished by a fine not exceeding $75, according to the proposed ordinance. Conway said police officers would consider why a child is out after curfew hours and if he/she has a valid excuse, a ticket will likely not be issued.
"If a kid is out late at a ball game and pulled over, he could be just warned," Conway said. "But, if three hours later, they're still driving around, that's a different circumstance."
County Attorney David Rice agreed that the ordinance is flexible.
"We're not talking about restricting kids from spending a night at a friend's house or playing in their own yard. This is to keep kids off public property during late hours," Rice said.
Physician Carley Robertson, a Hill County resident, also spoke in favor of the curfew.
"It's not much fun to call somebody's parents at 3 a.m. to tell them their kid's in the emergency room," Robertson said.
The adoption of a county curfew could keep kids from attending late night drinking parties and out of the emergency room, Robertson added.
Commissioner Kathy Bessette said the commissioners were first approached eight years ago about establishing a county curfew. But at the time, state law didn't allow it, she said.
The ability for counties to establish a curfew was ultimately adopted by last year's Montana Legislature. The bill was introduced by state Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre.
"It was a long, drawn-out process. We decided we needed to address this problem," Bessette said.
Also pushing for the curfew's adoption has been the HELP Committee and Hi-Line Boys & Girls Club in Havre, an organization focused on long-range drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention.
"This is about safety for kids," said HELP executive director Robin Morris. "It's not about taking them out of their front yards at 10:30 at night."