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Fees, no jail time proposed for those charged with minor offenses

Tuesday, April 03, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Busted for shoveling snow from the driveway to a public road? Caught urinating - or worse - in public? Or advertising the sale of a prized bong collecting dust on the fireplace?

If you do it along unincorporated stretches of Cook County, get your wallets ready.

Under a series of proposed and amended county ordinances offenders would be ticketed, face an administrative law judge and fines ranging from $100 to $500. Currently some low-level drug offenses on the books, including advertising, manufacturing or selling - particularly to a minor – small amounts of drug paraphernalia can vault you into the criminal court system and possibly net you some jail time. But jail and criminal courts, a drain on county coffers, would be taken out of the equation if the county board approves the measures.

“It’s partially an effort to take things out that were civil matters and do our best to unclog the courts and put these nuisance issues in the civil arena rather than the criminal arena,” County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the lead sponsor of the measures, told reporters Tuesday after a board meeting where the proposals were introduced.

The measures could also be money makers for a cash-strapped government. Consider the brand new measures on the table: A $200 fine for home and business owners who shovel snow from their driveway or parking lot on to roadways outside of Chicago city limits; a $200 fine for illegally dumping refrigerators or spreading rat or “vermin” poison on roads, sidewalks and other public spaces in unincorporated Cook County.

In addition, kids who blow curfew will snag their parents a $100 ticket, under another proposal. Currently the fines range from $5 to $100.

“Well, we’re hopeful through the fines there would be an increase in revenue and we’d save money by taking people out of the criminal justice system,” Preckwinkle said, adding that she wasn’t sure how much money the county would save.

She’s been pushing to move low-level, non-violent suspects awaiting trial out of the jail where it costs roughly $143 a day to house a detainee.

Commissioner Jeff Tobolski thought a proposed $100 fine for answering the call of nature - in public - was too low.

“And a $100 ticket, although it’s $100, is laughable. But a $500 ticket is not that funny,” Tobolski, a west suburban Democrat, said during Tuesday’s meeting.

The measures have been sent to the public safety committee for further discussion.

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