Westminster parade law in doubt CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

October 07, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

A Westminster ordinance that allows city officials to require parade sponsors to post bonds may be unconstitutional under a recent Supreme Court ruling, the state Attorney General's office has advised the city.

That section of law and two others criticized earlier as "absurd" and probably unconstitutional may soon be off the city's books, however. One bars parade marchers from carrying flags of any countries with which the U.S. has broken off diplomatic relations. The other bars citizens from picketing without a permit.

City Councilman Kenneth A. Yowan, chairman of the council's public safety committee, said the committee probably will recommend soon that the council scrap the three questionable sections of the picketing and parade ordinance.

The committee recommendation has not been made yet because council members are awaiting the results of research by City Attorney John B. Walsh Jr.

Mr. Walsh said yesterday that he plans to have a report in the council's hands by next Monday.

Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe told the city in August that its bond requirement "would appear to raise constitutional questions."

The notice came after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Forsyth County, Ga., could not levy parade permit fees that varied because of the level of police protection a parade was likely to require.

Ms. Rowe wrote in the notice that although Westminster's laws "do not call for permit fees, they do permit the legislative body to require a bond in an amount set by the body in its sole discretion."

She said her comments to Westminster officials were based on a statewide survey of local government ordinances requested by a state legislator. She said she could not identify the legislator because requests for Attorney General's opinions are confidential.

Ms. Rowe said Westminster is the only local government in Maryland that has a law allowing the city to require a bond for parade permits. But several others have insurance requirements that may be invalid under the Supreme Court ruling, she said.

Mr. Yowan said the council's initial response to the flag and picketing requirements, which came to light during an ordinance revision in November 1991, was, "We've never enforced any of these provisions."

Police Chief Sam Leppo, who issues parade permits, said he does not recall any parade sponsors ever being required to post a bond in his 26 years with the city government. He said the city has had 12 parades or races so far in 1992.

Chief Leppo said race sponsors are required to post certificates stating that they have liability insurance. Ms. Rowe said that insurance requirement probably would not fall under the Supreme Court ruling.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, had criticized Westminster's flag and picketing permit requirements earlier, calling them "absurd."

"This foreign flag thing is particularly ridiculous," he said. "It has got to be unconstitutional."

The ACLU sent legal material to Mr. Walsh to aid his research on the ordinance sections.

Mr. Comstock-Gay said yesterday that he could not predict whether the ACLU would challenge the ordinance if the council keeps the questionable sections.

"We'd have to kind of wait and see what they do," he said. "If they absolutely refuse to change it, it is clearly an unconstitutional law and we'd have to figure out what to do."

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