By Ross Markman
A grass-roots idea first brought to the Hill County Commission eight years ago, a countywide curfew was unanimously approved by the commissioners Thursday in an effort to prevent underage kids from getting in trouble after hours.
The curfew, which spans all unincorporated areas of Hill County, goes into effect in 30 days.
"Through the whole process, it was pretty evident we were doing this ordinance for the safety of kids," Commissioner Doug Kaercher said. "I think it's a matter of consistency between the city of Havre and the county. It worked for the city; hopefully it will work for us."
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.
The ability for counties to establish a curfew was granted by last year's Montana Legislature. The bill was introduced by state Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre.
"I don't think it's going to make that much difference in the way young people operate," Musgrove said today. "I don't think it will have the impact that a lot of people that are concerned about it think. It will smoothly integrate into the (curfew) the city has."
Crystal Faldalen, one of a number of Gildford residents opposed to the curfew, said Thursday the ordinance was "kind of vague." She has changed her mind sort of.
"After I got to looking at it, they made so many exceptions, they covered most of what I was concerned about," said Faldalen, 20. "I think they made it broad enough to really make sure everything is covered."
"There are enough exemptions that I don't think it's going to be a problem," he said.
Violators of the county curfew will be punished by a fine not exceeding $75 or by a sentence of up to 10 hours of community service, or both, according to the ordinance.
Police officers, though, will consider why a child is out after curfew hours, and if he/she has a valid excuse, a ticket will likely not be issued, the commissioners said.
And as Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson pointed out, even if a child receives a citation, he/she still must appear before a youth court judge to determine guilt or innocence.
"You have to look at what the chief said," Kaercher said. "A sheriff's deputy that picks up a child still has the justice part of the law to go through."
Faldalen said she hopes the ordinance doesn't adversely affect the kids not breaking the law.
"I just hope it will do what they said, prevent the bad kids from doing the bad things," Faldalen said. "People made some good points yesterday (at a public meeting on the ordinance). But I still don't think (a county curfew) is absolutely necessary."
Representatives of the HELP Committee and Hi-Line Boys & Girls Club in Havre disagree. The organization, focused on long-range drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention, has been pushing for the curfew's adoption for several years.
"I was really encouraged when the people had an opportunity to hear what the ordinance is all about. People (who are against it) now understand all the logic behind it," said Robin Morris, HELP's executive director.
"And we're very pleased with it," she added. "We know that many counties in Montana will be waiting and watching to see what happens."