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Coakley Rules No Fines for Public Drinking

Measure ratified by the 2011 Town Meeting shot down by the Attorney General.

The state Attorney General's office has officially shot down a proposal ratified at the that would levy a fine on anyone taken into protective custody for drunkenness in a public place.

The $200 fine was designed to help the town recoup the cost of transporting, processing and often cleaning up after hundreds of heavily inebriated people every year, many of them underage patrons of concerts. It was also expected to make a lasting impression on heavy drinkers at concerts, many of whom must be bailed out by parents.

The passage of the town meeting article followed a similar move by nearby Foxborough, where the presence of Gillette Stadium creates even more trips to and from the station and sometimes the hospital, during many of the seasonal concerts held there. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley dealt Foxboro a similar blow, saying the bylaw and fine violated a section of the Massachusetts Public Law viewing alcoholism as a disease and not a punishable criminal act.

Mansfield Town Manager Bill Ross announced the decision Wednesday and he was not pleased.

"The state requires us to take care of intoxicated people, but will not allow us to find a way to address the cost," he told selectmen. "The vast majority are not alcoholics - it's an entirely different issue. The taxpayers are bearing the cost of people who party too much. I find that unconscionable."

Although the proposed bylaw doesn't make the application of fines punishment for a criminal act, and does not apply to private residences, the AG's office was not impressed, saying the non-criminal penalty, if unpaid by the person taken into custody, becomes a court issue, making it essentially the "type of criminal or civil penalties" which the state law forbids.

Selectman Olivier Kozlowski, a lawyer, suggested the wording of the bylaw might be able to be "tweaked" and resubmitted for reconsideration for the coming spring town meeting.

The letter did say the town may want to consider petitioning the Legislature for a Home Rule Special Act that could offer a substitution for the failed bylaw attempt. Kozlowski pointed out Foxborough is taking the Home Rule route, after its bylaw was turned down twice by the AG's office.


Dick Armour December 13, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Alcohol is an anti-anxiety disinhibitor. It anesthetizes fear. Those who drink the most and the most often are the most afraid. Drunkedness was once seen for what it is and it was stigmitized as a result. It has unfortunately at times evolved into an excuse for irresponsibility. Prohibition was not a failure of the drunks, but a failure by those trying to control them. Any recovered person can tell you there's not much you can do with the drunk who's already intoxicated. Why not simply charge them a fee for the service of taking over after they have abandoned their own responsibility? The detoxes and treatment centers do that now! . . . . Oh wait!! We pay for them, too!

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