Law and Disorder: Burlington Wipes Archaic Ordinances Off the Books | True 802 | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Law and Disorder: Burlington Wipes Archaic Ordinances Off the Books


Published April 11, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated April 11, 2018 at 12:05 p.m.


Burlingtonians who have been hankering to engage in "boisterous conduct in cemeteries" or post "indecent showbills" are in luck.

The city is rolling back nine ordinances that govern moral and social codes, ranging from the archaic to the bizarre.

Among them: hitchhiking, writing "indecent words or pictures," "profane language" and "cruising," which is defined as repetitive driving between 9 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. in congested traffic.

The philanthropically inclined will be pleased to know that soliciting money for charities or asking for cash within 15 feet of a public toilet will no longer be banned when the changes go into effect Wednesday, April 11.

Many of the rules constitute protected free speech, city attorney Eileen Blackwood told the Burlington City Council's ordinance committee when she discovered them last fall.

Some ordinances were "deemed to be unconstitutional and hence unenforceable, and others were sort of old and needed cleanup," Councilor Chip Mason (D-Ward 5) explained at a January meeting. The council unanimously adopted the changes in March.

Blackwood first noticed the strange laws as the council grappled last year with how to respond to a series of stabbings involving homeless people. Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo advocated for increased penalties for public intoxication and urination, arguing that no mechanism existed to effectively penalize offenders of civil violations such as open alcohol container laws.

That was not, in fact, true.

Blackwood found that Burlington does have a policy criminalizing public intoxication and urination — and she also found the other activities she deemed protected under the First Amendment.

Burlington police had not enforced any of the deleted ordinances in recent memory, according to Deputy Police Chief Shawn Burke. He did say that officers might have given a verbal warning or two.

Police enforce some of the laws, such as "aggressive panhandling," through other ordinances, according to Mason.

Those seeking to avoid "indecent exhibitions" just might have to shield their eyes.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Law and Disorder"