'By Gretchen Schuldt
A proposed Milwaukee ordinance that would label some repeated traffic offenses a public nuisance was sent back to committee by the Common Council Tuesday after the city attorney's office said it was too broad and unenforceable.
"The ordinance would apply to a single violation of one of the listed traffic laws; and the listed traffic laws include both serious and relatively minor violations," Deputy City Attorney Todd Farris wrote in a memo. "For example, one violation for 'driving too slow' would, under the proposed ordinance, be a nuisance per se."
"We believe that in an injunction proceeding brought by the City, a court would likely conclude that the proposed ordinance is unreasonably broad....In other words, we do not believe that the proposed ordinance would accomplish the goal of making it easier for the City to obtain injunctive relief against problem drivers," he wrote.
Ald. Michael Murphy, the main sponsor of the measure, introduced it as a way to deal with the endemic reckless driving that is infuriating residents and threatening lives and limbs. Under the proposal, numerous driving offenses related to reckless driving, such as speeding, fleeing an officer, running stoplights, or driving on sidewalks, could be considered a public nuisance, allowing the city to file suit to seize the car involved. Murphy has said the ordinance was meant to target people stopped multiple times,
Some statutes included, however, go beyond reckless driving. One offense covered by the ordinance, for example, would be leaving a leaflet on a car.
In a memo provided by his office last week, the Milwaukee Police Department said the driving-related state laws included in the ordinance "were intended to broadly cover sections that refer to behavior that falls within the spirit of reckless driving, since not all reckless driving violations are cited under that specific statute. For example, driving on the wrong side of the road is perceived as "reckless' and could be cited under reckless driving... Not all subsections within those statutes may directly apply. They are broadly defined to buttress a nuisance litigation action under a nuisance per se theory."
The city attorney's opinion, also signed by City Attorney Tearman Spencer, suggested that "an ordinance declaring habitual or repeated violations of the more serious traffic laws to be a nuisance per se would stand a much better chance of being upheld by a court in an injunction proceeding."
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