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De Pere council cleans up ordinance language

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – The City of De Pere approved ordinances Dec. 17 that repeal parts of old ordinances addressing a host of issues, including panhandling, adults hosting underage drinking parties and drivers using compression brakes to cause a disturbance.

At its most recent meeting, the De Pere Common Council voted unanimously to make the ordinance language changes, some of which include:

Panhandling/aggressive panhandling: The council’s new ordinance repeals old prohibitions which made panhandling and aggressive panhandling illegal.

The reason is some federal courts, (including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which governs eastern and western Wisconsin) have said ordinances prohibiting panhandling violate freedom of speech protections.

Still other courts (but none in Wisconsin at this point) have said the same about ordinances prohibiting what’s being called aggressive panhandling.

The legal definition of aggressive panhandling is doing anything “with the intention of intimidating another person into giving away money or goods, including but not limited to, intentionally approaching, speaking to or following a person in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to fear imminent physical injury or the imminent commission of a criminal act upon the person or upon the property in the person’s immediate possession; intentionally touching another person without consent; or intentionally blocking or interfering with the free passage of a person.”

The ordinance was enacted in De Pere almost a decade ago, and Police Chief Derek Beiderwieden said it hasn’t been a problem locally.

De Pere Assistant City Attorney Kristen Johnson wrote in a memo adopting an ordinance against assault “without any reference to purpose or motive” may get around freedom of speech concerns. Wisconsin doesn’t have a law against “assault” per se, according to the city.

De Pere will abide by the common law definition of assault, which is the “threat or use of force on another that causes that person to have a reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact; the act of putting another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of an imminent battery.”

Social alcohol host regulations: The change repeals previous ordinance language sections regarding “social host alcohol regulations.”

In 2009, the city enacted an ordinance holding adults accountable for knowingly hosting underage drinking parties on their property or property they’re in charge of.

In 2016, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals found ordinances like this didn’t comport with state alcohol laws.

Because it’s already against state law for adults to knowingly host an underage drinking party on their property (or property they rent), De Pere this week repealed its local ordinance.

Compression braking: Another new ordinance addresses those who intentionally cause a disturbance via the squealing of compression brakes.

It amends sections related to disorderly conduct with a motor vehicle, removing compression braking from that category.

Compression braking (with the exception of emergency vehicles) used to fall under disorderly conduct with a motor vehicle, with first-time fines starting at $200, $250 for the second time, and $400 for the third time and beyond.

Upon suggestion by the De Pere police department and the vote by the council, compression braking is now its own violation, and the fines are lower.

It is prohibited and fines at $75, $150, and $250, respectively have been established.

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