The Josephine County Commissioners held a first public hearing in the matter of updating public intoxication rules during their Sept. 27 weekly business session, held at Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass.
Passed in the year 2000, Chapter 9.05 of the Josephine County Code was entitled Public Drinking, and fell under the umbrella of Chapter 9: Public Peace, Morals and Welfare.
Ordinance 2023-004 will change the title of Chapter 9.05 to Public Intoxication. County legal counsel Wally Hicks recounted that the amendments put forth by the ordinance are coming about in light of the state of Oregon decriminalizing hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Commissioner Dan DeYoung wanted to stress that the code only applies to public property and therefore “is not an infringement on your personal property rights.”
One excerpt from the proposed update reads, “No person shall consume any intoxicant (previously ‘alcoholic liquor’) while in or upon public property where any consumption of intoxicants is generally prohibited, including but not limited to any public thoroughfare, public street, sidewalk, alley, road shoulder or any other public right-of-way.”
The penalty for violating this code is as follows: “Any person, firm or corporation violating any provision of this ordinance shall be considered to be trespassing on public property and subject to prosecution for the offense of trespass subject and according to the laws of the State of Oregon. A separate offense shall be deemed committed on each day during or on which a violation of this ordinance occurs or continues.”
“Nothing in this ordinance prohibits the temporary possession of open containers for the purpose of recycling or waste disposal, or the transport of open containers in an area of the vehicle not normally occupied by the driver or passengers.”
The commissioners expressed frustration at a prior meeting that the Grants Pass City Council did not vote to opt in to the ordinance, so the amended rules will not be enforceable within GP city limits. However, the Cave Junction City Council did opt in, and due to a service agreement between the JoCo Sheriff’s Office and federal government, the ordinance can be enforced on any federal property within the county.
The commissioners received some positive feedback from the community during requests and comments from citizens.
Holly Morton remarked, “I absolutely support this. It’s critical with what’s going on in our county right now and I’m sure that if people are not allowed… to drink and do drugs and drop paraphernalia all over, that will probably encourage them to find another place to roost because it’s highly unsafe for the citizens and we just can’t have it.”
Meeting frequenter Mark Jones thanked the commissioners “for stepping up and doing something to help battle the effects of Measure 110,” but opined that harsher penalties should be implemented.
Brenda Sisson seconded Jones’ assessment that the penalties should be enhanced: “They are too weak as they stand today. These people ignore ordinances. They ignore anything that has to do with discipline of their self.”
A Grants Pass resident who introduced herself as Winnie defended her city’s council for not opting into the public intoxication amendment, saying they already had a very similar law on the books and dismissed the commissioners’ rendition as a “political move.”
In response to citizen concerns regarding penalties, Hicks asserted that the court will have the option to institute harsher penalties in light of aggregating circumstances or repeat offenses, so updating the penalty language in the code that has been on the books for 23 years would not be necessary.
The board voted unanimously to advance Ordinance 2023-004 to a second reading and adoption scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 4.