EAST GREENWICH—The town council held its second reading of proposed changes to the town code which would, among other things, remove the possibility of jail time for public drunkenness. The move is largely being undertaken to clean up the town code so that it better aligns with state law and improves the town’s liability. Town council president Mark Schwager spoke to the initiative.
“What we have are four ordinances of the town of East Greenwich, which we are revising predominantly so that they comply with state law and to clean up the language to make them clearer,” Schwager said.
The proposed changes include repealing “drunkenness” as a crime, redefining the public nuisance of providing minors with alcohol as well as an ordinance on public peddling or soliciting. Town solicitor Andrew Teitz contextualized the proposed changes to the town code, saying that the ordinances in question, under the proposed changes, would not only better align with state law but it is good practice.
“We are removing the possibility for jail time [for the ordinances]. The reason for that is because, under state law, in order to enforce an ordinance in municipal court you have to provide counsel to defendants if there is a possibility of jail time,” Teitz said.
Andrew Horowitz, assistant dean of education at the Roger Williams School of Law, attended Monday’s meeting to praise the council’s efforts regarding the ordinances.
“I am here to commend the town council for taking up all of these proposals. I have been working in conjunction with a number of folks across the state to try to get municipal codes to be decriminalized. Predominantly on issues of public policy. It is simply bad public policy to ask a municipal court to handle a criminal matter,” Horowitz said. “I think it is the right thing to do to eliminate any criminal violations in the municipal code. We have had similar discussions in Pawtucket and Central Falls, and in both of those scenarios the police chiefs came and testified in favor of it.”
“Anything that justifies criminal prosecution is already covered by state law, and we really don’t need municipal ordinances to restate that,” Horowitz added.
The proposed changes would not remove the prohibition of acts such as public drunkenness, but would rather decriminalize them so that they would be considered a municipal violation rather than a crime. As such, violations would be exclusively punished with fines rather than the threat of jail time.
The second reading of the proposed ordinances passed unanimously 4-0 with council member Michael Donegan being absent. An explanation of the ordinances to be changed and what changes are being proposed is available in the agenda packet for the town council’s meeting on the town’s website. A third reading will be held at the next town council meeting.