By Ross Markman
Touted as a tool for both parents and law enforcement, a countywide curfew for children under 18 goes into effect Monday night, 30 days after an ordinance establishing it was approved by the Hill County Commission.
The curfew will span all unincorporated areas of Hill County. Its times will mirror Havre's curfew, which has been in effect since 1964.
The curfew for kids 14 to 18 is 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. on weekends and holidays, and 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays. For children 13 and under, it's 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekends and holidays, and 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays.
Violators of the 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.
"The big thing for people to realize is that Sunday to Thursday are considered weekdays, and Friday, Saturday and legal holidays are weekends," said Robin Morris, executive director of Havre Encourages Long-range Prevention. "We need to get the word out so people know."
The HELP Committee, which focuses on long-range drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention, has been pushing for the curfew's adoption for several years.
"I think it will change things as far as parents will have one more tool," Morris said. "They won't have to argue with their children. They can just say, It's the law.'"
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera, a proponent of the countywide curfew, agreed.
"It's going to help. It will definitely give us a tool to get people that are underage off the streets at certain hours," Szudera said. "The biggest part is it will make the parents aware that their children need to be home at night. They'll know the law is going to do something about it if they're not home."
Law enforcement officers, according to Szudera, will consider why a child is out after curfew hours, and if he/she has a valid reason, a ticket will likely not be be issued.
"It will be effective to find out what's going on. There are a lot of young people out 2 and 3 in the morning for a purpose," he said. "If we stop somebody who's on a mission to get something accomplished, we're not going to do anything."
The ability for counties to establish a curfew was adopted by last year's Montana Legislature. The bill was introduced by state Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre.
The county curfew, Musgrove said, should integrate smoothly into Havre's.
"I don't think it's going to make that much difference in the way young people operate," he said. "And I don't think it will have the impact that a lot of people that are concerned about it think."
"People were thinking the curfew might be a little bit restrictive," she said. "But I think it will just make them think twice."