Fed up with youth violence and runaways gathering on city streets, some conservative lawmakers are proposing a statewide curfew for minors.
“We’re very concerned about juvenile crime, and this has been an effective means of stopping it in some places,” Rep. Lois McMahan, R-Gig Harbor, said Tuesday.
McMahan is a co-sponsor of the proposal, one of nearly 150 bills already filed for the 60-day legislative session that begins Monday.
The measure would prohibit youths under the age of 18 from hanging out in public places between midnight and 5 a.m., unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. Exceptions would be made for minors traveling to and from work or religious and school events.
Minors found outside after the curfew could be picked up by police and returned to their homes or to youth shelters. Curfew violators also could be charged with a misdemeanor.
But critics argue that a statewide curfew is not needed and may be illegal.
“It’s unconstitutional for the government to be telling people that they are banned from public when they are engaged in no wrongdoing,” said Gerard Sheehan, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
Sheehan pointed to a 1992 curfew ordinance in Bellingham that was struck down by a Whatcom County court in 1994 as too vague. The case is under appeal.
However, several other Washington cities have curfews.
Yakima has had a curfew for minors since 1993, according to Lt. Jeff Schneider of the Yakima Police Department. The curfew was prompted by several high-profile shootings involving juveniles.
Schneider said the curfew and an anti-cruising ordinance enacted at the same time have reduced the number of trouble spots in Yakima without forcing police to round up every youth they see.
“We use it for troublemakers,” he said. “It allows us to go in and break them up before they can do any damage.”
In Kent, voters approved a curfew six months ago after the City Council initially rejected the idea, according to Paul Petersen, a spokesman for the Kent Police Department.
Petersen said police opposed the curfew ordinance due to concerns it would put too much responsibility on officers without providing extra resources. Kent police have not noticed a decrease in juvenile crime since they started enforcing the curfew, Petersen said.
Even those who support curfews in general suggest that a statewide law may not be necessary.
“What works in one community may not work in another community,” said Tom McBride, a lobbyist with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
The Association of Washington Cities has opposed past attempts at enacting a statewide curfew, according to Jim Justin, a lobbyist for the group.