Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hudson's Curious and Arcane Laws

At last week's Common Council Legal Committee meeting, city attorney Ken Dow spoke at some length about "provisions in the city code that need to be removed because they are not lawful or not workable." The example he focused on primarily was Chapter 188, Paragraph 5: Keeping disorderly house prohibited.
§ 188-5. No person shall, within the limits of the City, keep or maintain a disorderly house or a house of ill fame or allow or permit any house, shop, store, or other building or structure owned or occupied by him or by her to be used as a disorderly house or house of ill fame.
It seems the Hudson Police Department has been applying this law to situations that involve people hanging out at a house or apartment creating noise and objectionable activity that disrupts a neighborhood. The problem is that by definition--admittedly an archaic one--a "disorderly house" is not simply a domicile frequented by an unruly crowd, it is a brothel, a house of prostitution. 

Dow also spoke of the law applying to yard signs for political candidates--Chapter 244, Paragraph 34 G.
§ 244-34 G. Election signs. Temporary election signs shall not be erected prior to 40 days before any election and shall be removed not more than five days after the election. Such temporary signs shall not exceed 32 square feet in area and shall be completely prohibited in residential zones. Where permitted, such signs shall be installed no less than 10 feet from the curbline.
Every aspect of this law is regularly ignored in Hudson. These banners from the 2013 local election, positioned only a couple of feet from the curbline in a residential zone, remained in place for more than two months after the election.

Dow made the point that it was "unconstitutional to impose a durational limit on election signs." He went on to say, "It puts enforcement officers in an awkward position when they must enforce laws that are illegal."

Dow's recommendation was that "the laws should be pruned so that what is there is good law." He further commented, "People don't know which laws 'count.'" The Legal Committee agreed to take on the task of reviewing the city code to identify such problematic laws and recommend amendments to fix the problems.

The Legal Committee may have already gotten some help in their endeavor from former First Ward alderman David Marston. Back in 2013, Marston made a practice of reading the city code and sharing what he considered the more bizarre and arcane laws with his colleagues on the Council. On April 3, 2013, he brought the "disorderly house" law to the attention of the Arts, Entertainment & Tourism Committee. Among the others he highlighted during his tenure on the Council were the following:
§ 70-5. All female dogs shall be confined to premises of their owner while such are in season (heat) and may not be left outside unattended. Any owner not adhering to this rule will be subject to having the dog seized by the Dog Control Officer and removed to a safe place of confinement.  
§ 188-2. No person shall, within the limits of the City, disrobe in any automobile, truck or vehicle while the same is upon any parking place, street, road, avenue, highway, park or other public place. 
§ 188-27. No person shall use or pretend to use or have any skill in physiognomy, palmistry or like crafty science, or pretend to tell destinies or fortunes. 
§ 318-8. No more than three such yard or garage sales may be held by one residence and/or family household during a calendar year. If members of more than one residence join in holding such a garage sale, such sale shall be considered having been held for each and all of such residents. Each day that a yard sale is held shall count as one yard sale.
Although a paragraph of the yard sale law (Chapter 318) made Marston's list of bizarre laws, it is not a law that has existed for generations in Hudson. It was adopted by the Common Council in 2003, in response to a perpetual yard sale then being conducted at a house on the 300 block of Allen Street. The year-round display of items of furniture on the porch, in the yard, and on the sidewalk was deemed unsightly, and it interfered with the use of the sidewalk by pedestrians.

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