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Judge to Decide if Burlington Trespass Ordinance is Constitutional

Is Burlington's Trespass Ordinance unconstitutional? That's the question a judge now has to answer.
BURLINGTON, Vt. - Is Burlington's Trespass Ordinance unconstitutional?  That's the question a judge now has to answer.

A Burlington woman took the city to court saying the city has no right to ban people from a public place such as Church Street.

The Trespass Ordinance on Church Street Market Place was at the center of debate in court Friday.

The ordinance allows police to ban repeat nuisance offenders on Church Street, but Burlington woman Sandra Baird says the law violates people's rights, so she sued the city. 

"We were haggling before the ordinance committee about what to do and we came ot the conclusion that until the court lays some, makes some decisions about this thing nobody can move forward good or bad. So that's why we are here," Attorney John Franco said. 

Friday the issue went in front of a judge.

Burlington City Attorney Eileen Blackwood says the ordinance gives police another option. Instead of arresting an unruly person they can ban them from the area temporaily. 

"This gives them an opportunity to kind of give people a time out. to say you need to leave the market place for a while and get in control of your behavior," Blackwood said. "We are trying to have it be a place for everybody". 

The ordinance states that a first time offender can be banned for the rest of the day. The second time, 90 days A third time and a person can be banned for a year. 

"Since the ordinance was inacted there have been 66 of these trespass warnings issued," Blackwood said. "Fifty-five of them have been one time only, meaning that the folks haven't engaged in further behavior that would subject them to this and that seems a real success."

Franco doesn't see it that way.  He says the city has no right to ban someone from public property.

"Church Street is an important asset to everybody including to the city, including to the people we think have been adversly affected," Franco said. "One thing we share in common is that we are all here to protect that."

It's now up to a judge to decide whether Burlington's Trespass Ordinance is Constitutional. 

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