Arizona Lawmakers Leave It To Communities To Determine How Loud is Too Loud
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- So how loud is too loud?
Legislation approved Monday by the state House on a 31-25 margin doesn't say. That would remain up to each community to decide.
But it would bar police and local code officers from issuing citations for disturbing the peace or similar violations unless they actually measured the sound level with an approved device and came up with a reading above the standard.
No sound device? No violation.
HB 2389 is being pushed by Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who said she is concerned about arbitrary enforcement of nuisance laws based on individual perception.
Current state law makes it illegal to interfere "with the comfortable enjoyment or life or property by an entire community or neighborhood or by a considerable number of persons.'' That includes excessive noise.
The problem, Townsend said, is one person's definition of what's excessive -- and therefore illegal -- is purely subjective.
"We are working on a bill that has to do with a very vague nuisance law,'' she said. And Townsend said it's being used by one city attorney to target a local business.''
That business, Townsend disclosed in an earlier committee hearing, is the Hitching Post restaurant in Apache Junction. The owner said neighbors, armed only with videos, got police to issue citations about bull riding that occurs several nights a week.
"It's incumbent upon us to make sure that this law is not a weapon,'' Townsend said.
The legislation spells out that citations could be issued only after a police officer or code enforcement officer measures the sound level with a meter that can be calibrated to meet certain standards. The actual noise level at which a citation would be issued would remain with each city or county to set the threshold.
Townsend said the winners in this scenario are those who are the subject of complaints.
"What this is doing is allowing that person that's having to defend themselves to say, 'There was no noise because the guy came with his noise-ometer, whatever you call them, and they took a reading and there wasn't a nuisance,' '' she said.
That raised questions from Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, starting with the question of outfitting police officers with noise devices that would be considered accurate enough to have their readings accepted in court. Townsend acknowledged that her legislation provides no state cash, leaving it up to each community to find the funds.
But Blanc said there's another issue.
She pointed out the measure requires that measurements must be taken using methods approved by the American National Standards Institute. So Blanc asked Townsend to explain what these are.
"I'm going to invite you to look it up,'' Townsend responded. "I'm not an expert on nor do I have those memorized.''
Blanc then asked Townsend how police are supposed to be experts in these ANSI standards.
"I would hope that law enforcement is an expert on the law that they are required to enforce,'' Townsend said.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said what Townsend has proposed makes sense.
"It takes us away from the current subjective standard for a noise complaint,'' he said, standards that he said can be different among different code enforcers, "which is bad law and which is so nebulous it can be used to harass people that enforcers or police don't like.''
"You get a scientific way to measure it, so there's no fudging,'' Kavanagh said. "This is everything that people should like in law: precision and accuracy.''
The bill now goes to the Senate.
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