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Lee County to vote on beefing up authority to fine offenders

Lee County Sheriff John Simonton
Lee County Sheriff John Simonton

DIXON – The Lee County Board will vote Tuesday to make several law enforcement regulations into ordinances aimed at making it easier to fine repeat offenders in unincorporated areas.

The offenses are: abandoned and inoperable vehicles, loud noise after hours, fighting in businesses or public places, public urination or defecation, trespassing, curfew, disobeying police officers, underage drinking, illegal fireworks, farm animals roaming at large, public drunkenness, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol at a private campground.

The county’s law enforcement ordinances are antiquated, and the offenses are the more common complaints the department receives from unincorporated villages and other areas, Sheriff John Simonton said.

“We’re not just pulling them out of a hat,” he said, adding that some complaints come in every week.

Minimum fines range from $100 to $750, and State’s Attorney Matt Klahn said ordinance violations require a more lax burden of proof than criminal offenses, focusing on preponderance of the evidence rather than proving beyond a reasonable doubt.

Like in civil cases, more than half of the evidence needs to point to the offense.

“It’s not to limit anyone’s rights,” Klahn said.

Simonton said one of the biggest concerns about the ordinances was about unfenced farm animals, but it’s not geared toward animals that slip through but rather a few individuals who make no effort to fence their livestock.

Policing the offenses will be up to the discretion of the deputy on whether to give out a warning, he added.

They will also be more lenient with people making an effort to comply, such as people working on removing junked cars after they receive a letter giving them 7 days to comply.

County Zoning Administrator Chris Henkel said he could send out at least 100 vehicle violation letters.

“There’s tons of junked cars out there,” he said.

The draft of ordinances was introduced to the board last month, and held over for a month before a vote per county rules, but board members were concerned they were rushing the decision.

Board member Kasey Considine said at the June 19 meeting that they shouldn’t hold it over when they haven’t even had time to read the material, and board member Allyn Buhrow said the ordinances need to be reviewed in committee.

“Things need to be discussed, and we need time to go through them,” Buhrow said last month.

The vote to hold the ordinances over to the July meeting passed, but it was difficult to distinguish how many board members were against it because it was by voice vote.

The public safety, health and judicial committee went over the ordinances Wednesday, and the final proposal was released in the board meeting packet Friday.

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