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Boulder approves penalty reduction for sixty municipal offenses, ACLU wants forty more

Tuesday night, Boulder City Council reduced fines and approved no jail time for first and second convictions on sixty municipal offenses -- an effort to prevent a flood of minor cases (like Occupy Boulder camping tickets) from filling courtrooms.

Some aspects of these changes please the ACLU of Boulder. Others don't.

In addition to penalty reduction for the aforementioned sixty offenses, the council has taken away the right to a jury trial for the violations -- something the ACLU doesn't like. However, the organization otherwise approves of the move, and is proposing that an additional forty ordinances be added to the penalty-reduction list.

"Incarceration should be the very last option and you don't want to leave that open to the power of a judge," says Judd Golden, the Boulder chapter's chairman.

Golden sent a letter to City Council last week, asking council members to increase the number of ordinances slated for penalty reduction. Some of the suggested additions include "Use of fighting words," "Begging in certain places to be prohibited," "Fireworks" and "public urination."

"Once you put them in jail, it changes their whole approach to life," Golden says. "They end up associating with people in there, and it can really keep someone in the system, rather then giving them a chance."

When the list of additions was first brought in front of councilmembers, Golden says, "Council rebutted at first." But last night, he feels the ACLU's proposal made an impact. "The dialogue really changed. They said, 'We need to expand this list.' They thought what the ACLU is suggesting is a good thing."

Last night's discussion was phase one of an attempt to reduce jail penalties for minor cases. Golden says council members will continue to review the codes to see which ACLU additions should be included.

"I think it's going to be dependent on us to continue our advocacy. I will be contacting the City Attorney to renew what we've done."

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