Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Apalachicola City Officials Revamps Noise Ordinance


The first public reading of the revamped ordinance will take place at the city commission regular
scheduled meeting in March.

The Apalachicola Board of City Commissioners took steps at their regular monthly meeting held Tuesday night to revamp and strengthen the city ordinance that bans the playing of loud music from parked and moving vehicles within the city limits.

City Attorney Pat Floyd told city commissioners that he had prepared a draft ordinance addressing the issue that he would circulate to the board, as well as to chief of police Bobby Varnes and city administrator Betty Webb for review and comments.

“This ordinance (draft) is the one that’s gone through the most litigation in terms of it being approved with the courts… it has withstood some local challenges down in the area that it originates. They have been able to use it, enforce it and do well with it… so we’ll utilize the progress that they’ve made in hopes of establishing it here”, said Floyd.

In 2007 and in 2008 two south Florida motorist were cited in separate cases by law enforcement officers within their communities for playing their car radios to loud. Both motorist fought the citations and prevailed in the lower courts, but the cases were appealed by the state and consolidated by the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland. 

In 2011 the appellate court issued one ruling, which stated the law banning loud music violated the freedom of speech and were therefore unconstitutional. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 2012. The court reasoned the law violated free speech rights for serveral reasons, including that it exempted vehicles used for business or political purposes, but not others and that the law created content-based censorship. 

The ruling immediately rendered all existing city and county ordinances throughout Florida that were mirrored after the state statute unenforceable.  

In the revamped Apalachicola ordinance Floyd told commissioners that, “there were some constitutional limitations imposed by the court on what is an offensive noise and there are some instruments (decibel meters) that will have to be used to measure this in a way that is not subjective”, Floyd said. 

“Those noises that are harmful in certain environments and certain times of day will be objectively measured by devices and then that would be the violation in the terms of decibels and that would be restricted and prohibited.  There are exceptions for different types of activities, for example when the marching band goes down to the seafood festival”, Floyd concluded.

The first public reading of the revamped ordinance will take place at the city commission regular scheduled meeting in March.