Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
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Ordinance prohibits sleeping on bus benches in Hernando

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— People should not view the newly passed ordinance against sleeping on bus benches as being overly punitive, county commissioners said Tuesday.

However, it needs to be in place to protect the rights of bus riders, they said.

It is now against county law for people to lie down or sleep on mass transit buses, in bus shelters or on the sidewalks surrounding those shelters during bus operating hours. Commissioners passed the ordinance by a vote of 4-0. Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes was absent.

Nodding off in a sitting position is fine. So is partial reclining. Code enforcement officers will enforce the ordinance and if people are found in violation, they will be asked to sit up or leave.

“This is not about homelessness, it’s not about sleeping,” said assistant county attorney Randy Griffiths. “You can’t hog the bench during operating hours of the bus lines.”

Two people in the audience Tuesday spoke against the ordinance.

“This is a joke,” said resident and frequent commission attendee Joe Lemieux. “There is absolutely no reason to pass a law like this.”

Lemieux said there are bus patrons tired from a busy day at work who might want to catch a few winks on the bench while waiting for the bus.

“And you’re going to threaten them with arrest?” Lemieux asked.

Charles McBrearty called it “ridiculous” and wondered where the line will be drawn between sleeping and nodding off.

County attorney Garth Coller said people shouldn’t expect heavy-handed enforcement of this ordinance.

There have been problems in other jurisdictions and this is simply to hedge off any potential future problems, Coller said.

“I don’t think this is going to become an issue,” he said.

County staffers said the ordinance is needed because reclining in such locations is not only dangerous for the person but is disruptive and inconvenient to adults, children, special needs people or disabled riders attempting to use or travel on buses. The prohibition is in effect during normal bus operating hours.

Griffiths said the county is going erecting shelters, bus benches and complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So it makes sense to get this ordinance in place now before all that is done, he said.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

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