By Ross Markman
In response to a bill passed last year by the Montana Legislature, the Hill County commissioners will consider establishing a countywide curfew for kids.
The commissioners will address the issue at their Feb. 8 meeting at 10 a.m.
"It's not meant as a punishment, it's meant to be a protection," Commissioner Kathy Bessette said. "We've had a request to do it before, but there was no provision in the law to allow it."
That's where House Bill No. 127, introduced by state Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, comes into play. Prior to its passing, a countywide curfew wasn't allowed in counties that have unincorporated towns.
If approved, the curfew in Hill County would be the same as the one that now exists in Havre. Havre's curfew for kids ages 14 to 18 is 12:30 a.m. on weekends and 10:30 p.m. on weekdays. For kids 13 and under, it's 10:30 on weekends and 9:30 on weekdays. The times haven't changed since the curfew's inception in 1964, according to Robin Morris, executive director of the HELP Committee, a 22-year-old organization focused on long-range drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention.
According to Morris, the countywide curfew is reasonable and has the potential to reduce, among other things, underage drinking, vandalism, suicide and pregnancy.
"Having raised a son in this town, I know this is a good thing," Morris said.
Kids have found ways to bypass the city curfew. Some go to Fresno, some to Beaver Creek Park during late-night hours, Morris said. Many are found drinking alcohol or vandalizing property, she said.
"We've also heard from small communities in Hill County about kids just driving around, because they're allowed to," Morris said.
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said teenagers with a reason to be out after the proposed hours will not be penalized. Kids working late, for instance, will not be cited or fined.
Szudera agreed that a countywide curfew could help curb illegal activities.
"I think it's a good thing. It's long overdue and needed. I'm glad to see the communities are taking a look at things with the youth in the community. It gives us something to work with as far as law enforcement is concerned," he said.
Szudera said other problems with underage kids out after hours include trespassing, theft and "a lot of rowdiness" most occurring at a time the sheriff said young people need to be home.
The commissioners say they haven't heard much opposition to the proposed countywide curfew, mainly because most parents set their own personal curfews.
Added Commissioner Doug Kaercher, "Our goal here is to save lives. (The police) will use the curfew as a tool to do so."
Morris agreed, saying that she and HELP program director Krista Solomon have discussed the pros and cons of the curfew with law enforcement officials and the religious community. Most agreed that it's a good idea.
"The people we've visited with are very supportive of it," she said. "It aids them in parenting and makes them the good guy. It's much easier as a parent to just say there's a curfew."
Morris said she hopes to see the countywide curfew approved by the commissioners by springtime.
"More and more, we're having problems with younger and younger kids," she said. "The majority of the kids out there at 2 or 3 a.m. should not be out there. They have no reason to be."