Bill for Portsmouth municipal court gets OK

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PORTSMOUTH — The town's wish for a municipal court got one step closer to reality Thursday.

The House of Representatives approved legislation to allow Portsmouth to establish a municipal court to adjudicate violations of town ordinances, including housing ordinances.

The House bill that was passed, 2013-H 6044, was introduced on behalf of the town by Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton). Co-sponsored by Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth), Rep. Raymond E. Gallison Jr. (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) and Rep. Linda Finn (D-Dist. 72, Middletown, Portsmouth), the measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.

A companion Senate bill, 2013-S 0884, was introduced by Sen. Christopher Scott Ottiano (R-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol). That bill was passed by the Senate and is currently before the House Committee on Municipal Government.

Rep. Canario said the hope is that a municipal court will more efficiently allow for local enforcement of minor police violations such as trespassing, as well as traffic violations and zoning infractions.

It should also, he said, help accelerate the legal process for disposition of these kinds of violations and should help cut town costs, such as those resulting when town officials, including police, travel to courts outside the town to represent the community.

The legislation will empower the Town Council to appoint a judge and clerk, to enact ordinances governing the personnel, operation and procedure of the court and to establish a schedule of fees and costs. The court would be allowed to impose sentences up of to 30 days and fines of up to $500.

Enactment of the legislation will add Portsmouth to a growing list of communities that have established a municipal court to handle local issues, such as Bristol and Barrington.

Two recent incidents illustrate the town's need for a municipal court, officials say.

A Lehigh Terrace resident complained to the Town Council May 28 that a construction company was violating the zoning ordinance by illegally operating in a residential zone near his home.

The next day, Town Council member David Gleason complained to police that the Sakonnet River Bridge work was violating the town's noise ordinance.

In both instances, however, officials said it was difficult to prosecute without a municipal court in place.

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