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From the desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(9/1) As always, I hope everyone's summer is going well - at least it now FEELS like summer… I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss two upcoming pieces of upcoming legislation which in some ways seem related. The first is a proposal to establish a municipal requirement that bike, non motorized scooter, skateboard, and roller skate/blade users be required to wear an approved safety helmet.

The second involves proposed revisions to the Town's existing "Youth Curfew" ordinance. Both were requested by the Frederick County Sheriff's Resident Deputies at the August 3 Town Meeting. The Board of Commissioners supported moving forward with draft ordinances based on both requests.

Much like the requirement to wear seatbelts in a car, a requirement to wear an approved safety helmet while riding a bike or using a non motorized scooter, skateboard, roller skates/blades, etc. seems to be a reasonable expectation given the safety benefits to the user. State law already requires those under age sixteen to wear helmets while engaging in these activities. The proposed municipal ordinance will extend the requirement to ALL users.

As with most things, it's probably best if adults lead by example instead of relying on "Do as I say, not as I do…" The cost of the helmet seems a small price to pay - especially given the cost of the equipment itself - and the requirement doesn't otherwise restrict one's ability to participate in the activity.

While state law provides only for warnings if the law is violated, the municipal ordinance may provide for monetary fines for repeat offenders. My hope is that the Town and the Sheriff's Office will continue to provide access to discounted helmets. It was also suggested that the Town work with local retailers to make sure helmets are easily available in town.

The current "Youth Curfew" ordinance on the municipal books is generally considered unenforceable since it is based on a set of considerations that have previously been struck down in various federal court rulings. A revised ordinance would be based on an existing Charlottesville, VA ordinance that has successfully withstood challenge in federal circuit court - Emmitsburg shares the same circuit as Charlottesville.

Proponents of the revision state that the change should reduce youth based crime in the curfew period, provide another tool to parents, prevent children from becoming victims of crime, or prevent children from falling prey or coming under the negative influence of adults otherwise involved in "anti-social" activities during the curfew period. While all of these are laudable goals, I am concerned at what cost they would be achieved.

Assuming there is no legitimate emergency, how far should any government go in telling citizens (admittedly, in this case, minors) when and where then can go? The police should already have all the power they need to stop illegal activities - is it truly necessary to stifle ANY activity in the name of "prevention?"

I understand the opinion that there is 'no viable activity for a minor on the street at 2 a.m.' or the fact that governments compel children to attend school. But it seems to me that this type of ordinance presumes that a person is guilty of something simply by virtue of being on the street - and is really designed to get someone off the street without having to prove they have really done anything illegal at all. In the end, no one has proved to me that we have a problem that demands such drastic action.

Both of these proposals will continue to be addressed at upcoming Town Council meetings. I encourage you to weigh in with your opinions by letter, e-mail, or attending a meeting as the process moves forward. The worst situation is when government acts in a sealed bubble with few and regular opinions. Please seriously consider taking the time to share yours! Best wishes for a safe and happy summer.

Read other articles by Chris Staiger