Tampa City Council passes car noise ordinance that threatens jail time for offenders

Although other Council members sounded like they supported reducing the threat of jail time, none of them sided with Montelione.

Council members have felt compelled to address complaints from a number of citizens who have spoken out for months, if not years, about motorists driving or parking in their neighborhoods while blasting their music at such high volume, it affects the residents' quality of life.

The issue came to them after the state Legislature failed to pass a similar bill this past spring, where it passed through the House but deadlocked in the Senate. The Legislature attempted to act after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in December that the previous ban — enacted in 1990 but subsequently struck down by the 2nd District Court of Appeals — was unconstitutional because it prohibited loud music yet allowed amplified political and commercial speech.

Tampa Police Maj. Diane Hobley-Burney told the council that it was not the goal of the TPD to put people in jail — or impound people's cars — for violating the noise ordinance.

"Our position is to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Tampa," she said.

Tampa State Democratic Senator Arthenia Joyner voted against the bill in Tallahassee, claiming concerns that it would make it easier for the police to racially profile black motorists.

But Pastor Essie Sims Jr., chairman of the East Tampa Partnership, told the Council that wasn't the issue at all.

"This is a general issue all across racial lines," he insisted.

Councilwoman Montelione said it wasn't a race issue, but one of age.

"It's young people," she said.

Other members who came before the Council said it's a universal issue that transcends race and age. They just want the board to enact penalties to make their lives better, as some complained that such noise affects their ability to watch television or even go to sleep. Brenda Mobley, the secretary of the Eastern Heights Neighborhood Association and Crime Watch said, "These aren't children. They're grown people. I want you to understand it's not just young people."

Activists Life Malcolm and Connie Burton both said they were disgusted with the nature of the council's conversation. Malcolm said the issue is not about public safety; it's about the "punitive nature" to deal with young black men by threatening to jail them.

Burton went nuclear on the council, deriding them all (Mary Mulhern was absent) as effectual Democrats who don't know how to fix real problems, and accused the elderly black residents who were arguing for the sanctions because they "hate" their own young people in the community.

  • Activist Connie Burton argued against the car noise ordinance

The Tampa City Council approved an ordinance on a 6-0 vote on Thursday that would sanction drivers who are blasting audible music from 50 feet away. The ordinance includes possible jail time for third time offenders.

Reacting to complaints from residents, particularly elderly African-Americans in East Tampa, the Council passed the measure. There is a $150 fine for first-time offenders, a $250 fine for two-time offenders, and a $450 fine for third-time offenders, and the possibility of 60 days in jail — by far the most contentious piece of the ordinance.

"There are a lot of people who agree that this should not be an arrestable offense," said Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, citing messages that she's received from the public in person and on social media. She said having someone arrested for violating a noise ordinance puts a burden on a number of local and state agencies that are busy with more serious crimes. "I don't think we need to go as far as putting them in jail to really send a message."

Montelione emphasized that she thought an ordinance was necessary, but just could not support adding jail time to it, especially after City Attorney Rebecca Kert suggested that in all probability a judge would probably chose not to sentence a third-time offender to jail, since it wasn't a crime but simply a violation of a city ordinance.

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