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County Considers New Fines For Drug Paraphernalia, Snow Dumping, Public Urination

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Cook County Board

A Cook County Board meeting. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cook County Board is considering enacting new fines for a variety of offenses from public urination to illegal refrigerator dumping.

The proposal would also make some offenses involving drug paraphernalia punishable by a fine rather than criminal charges.

At a County Board meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-9th) explained that the the new fines would be enacted as amendments to existing county public safety codes. They were recommended by the Cook County Sheriff’s office, he said.

“What they do is a lot of these offenses would become under the jurisdiction of the administrative law process as opposed to the Circuit Court of Cook County,” Silvestri said. “It’s designed to save the county money, but more importantly, it’s designed also to save the county money by taking these types of items out of the Circuit Court and putting them into the administrative law process.”

One of the changes would make possession of small amounts of drug paraphernalia punishable by a ticket and a fine, rather than by arrest and criminal prosecution. Currently, Silvestri pointed out, possession of small amounts of marijuana only warrants a ticket and a fine rather than prosecution and possible jail time.

But advertising, making or selling drug paraphernalia can still result in an arrest, prosecution and potential jail time, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The proposed ordinances would change that.

Other offenses include fines for fireworks, disturbing the peace with noise or boisterous activity, and removing earth or sod without a permit, Silvestri said.

In addition, the parents of children who violate curfew would be fined $100 across the board. As of now, the fines range from $5 to $100, the Sun-Times reported.

An assortment of fines are also proposed for offenses against public morals and against public health, such as illegally dumping a refrigerator, spreading rat poison, and throwing objects into public places of amusement.

Other proposed fines would be assessed for offenses against property rights, including the act of dumping snow into the street after shoveling or plowing it.

“So often townships in the county remove snow, and then the shopping center puts it back in the street when they remove it from the shopping center,” Silvestri said.

The fine for snow dumping would be $200, the Sun-Times reported.

No vote was taken on the proposals Tuesday. They were referred to the Law Enforcement Committee, which will vote on them at a later date, followed by a vote by the full County Board.

But Commissioner Jeff Tobolski (D-16th) said he thought some of the fines were too low to act as a deterrent. For example, he said, the proposed $100 fine will not stop people from urinating in public.

“We get a lot of complaints from people who live abutting the forest preserve about this type of behavior happening all the time,” Tobolski said. “And a $100 ticket – even though it’s $100 – is probably laughable, but a $500 ticket is not that funny, so if we really want to correct the problem, I would just ask that the Law Enforcement Committee put some teeth into it so that one ticket is enough to send the message and we can get moving forward.”

Silvestri pointed out that right now, people are prosecuted in the Cook County court system for public urination in unincorporated Cook County, and prosecuting them is costing more than the resulting fines. Under the new ordinance, the county would no longer be responsible for prosecuting the offense.

Some of the proposed ordinances only affect unincorporated Cook County, while others affect the entire county unless cities or towns have existing ordinances on the same subjects.

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