Council doesn't favor law against masks and hoods

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Pittsburgh City Council today tentatively voted down a proposed ordinance, driven by the coming G-20 Summit, that would make it a summary offense to wear a mask or hood with the intent of concealing one's identity and committing a crime.

Just two council members -- Ricky Burgess and Jim Motznik -- voted for the ordinance sought by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration, with six members opposed. Most members thought the ordinance would compromise civil liberties without much improving public safety.

"This, to me, is a little bit overboard, over-reactive," said Council President Doug Shields. "It's a bill that doesn't produce a result, has no clear purpose, and only muddies the water, and makes the job of the Pittsburgh police all that more difficult."

Assistant City Solicitor Yvonne Hilton said the ordinance would allow police to act quickly when a masked person -- who might be hard to identify later -- shows clear intent of committing a crime. She called it "constitutionally defensible.

"Other cities have this. Philly has almost the identical ordinance."

The Sept. 24-25 summit of leaders of the world's biggest economic powers drove Mr. Ravenstahl's administration to seek the ordinance, but Ms. Hilton argued that it should not have an expiration date of, say, Sept. 26. Police "need it not only for the G-20," but for general crime-fighting, she said.

Councilman Burgess said the ordinance could be useful year-round in his northeast Pittsburgh district, where criminals use hooded sweatshirts to hide their faces.

Councilwoman Darlene Harris, though, said it is so broad that it could be misapplied. "What about a woman who has too much makeup on?" she joked. "It's so open here, that all I could see is lawsuits coming in with this."

Councilwoman Tonya Payne was out of the room for the vote. A final vote could occur Tuesday.


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