Stricter Teen Curfew Still Under Debate at City Hall

Tuesday was a busy day at City Hall. City Council took action on a number of topics ranging from grease traps to teen curfews. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

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The agenda for the meeting was long and the meeting itself was even longer. Councilmembers tagged or delayed nearly a quarter of the agenda items, but still managed to pass a number of high-profile ordinances, including one that requires restaurant owners to regularly clean out grease traps and another ordinance requiring city contractors to provide health insurance for full-time employees. Council also debated, at length, an ordinance to impose stricter curfews for minors. Councilmember Ada Edwards was the most vocal opponant of the curfew, saying it criminalizes teens for simply being outside during certain hours.

"Somebody in this community has got to be grown up and say that when I say you're in the house at nine o'clock, you're in the house at nine o'clock. When I was growing up, quote unquote, there was no curfew law that I was afraid of. My grandfather said you'd better have your butt in this house. Now if we're not willing to have parents be responsible for their kids, then we need to say that."

Houston Police Department Executive Assistant Chief Mike Thaler briefed the council on the curfew ordinance. He says it's just a tool officers can use if they suspect teens are involved in criminal activity.

"By and large, our officers exercise the appropriate discretion and they don't always issue citations. And to say that the curfew ordinance makes them a criminal -- it's a Class C citation and the officer again has discretion. That's the only thing in the code of criminal procedures that allows the officer the discretion about whether to actually enforce that ordinance or not given the circumstances and the situation because it's the most minor offense that we have in our laws."

The new ordinance imposes an 11pm curfew on anyone under 17. There is also a daytime curfew to curb truancy. That curfew runs from 9am to 2:30pm. Several councilmembers questioned the daytime element, saying it could be problematic for students who have non-traditional school hours or who may be home schooled. Mayor Bill White says the curfew already in place has been judiciously administered and he believes the stricter version will help further reduce crime.

"Public safety is a very high priority in this community. It should be the parents' responsibility, but let's deal with the fact that we have a lot of parents who've abdicated that responsibility and we need to protect the neighborhoods."

In the end, Councilmember Addie Wiseman tagged the curfew ordinance so no vote could be taken. The item will come up on the agenda again within the next week or two. Some councilmembers, including Wiseman, Edwards and Michael Berry, have said they will vote against the new curfew. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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