New version of ‘skateboarding bill’ sparks heated City Council debate

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell is a vocal opponent of the bill.

Councilman David Oh has gotten a lot of flack for a bill he introduced in May on behalf of Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration that would toughen penalties for those who vandalize public memorials on a skateboard, bicycle or roller blades. The criticism kept rolling in on Thursday when Oh resurrected an amended version of the legislation  – and the lion’s share came from his own colleague.

“This is the same bill we considered before – this is the bill that would lock people up for skateboarding,” said Councilman Jannie Blackwell, who called the legislation “unconscionable” and asked her fellow members to vote against it. “I hope my colleagues would realize we don’t lock children up, we don’t lock parents up and that the intent of skateboarders is certainly not to disrespect our city in any way.”

But Oh said the bill is a compromise he worked out between the Nutter administration and skateboarders since its original incarnation was tabled in October following an outcry from Blackwell and others who felt it was needlessly harsh. “We had about maybe 10 representatives from all different segments of the skateboarding community, including Franklin’s Paine and some of the others, and I basically kind of went through what I thought and what they thought,” Oh said. “And there’s a third party in this – there’s the mayor. And the mayor, he originated the bill and he has something he wants to say.”

Under the amended bill, skateboarding would be prohibited on private property and public memorials that are clearly marked with a sign. The penalties would be lowered from the original proposed maximum of a $2,000 fine and 90 days in jail. “The issue is if you intentionally crash your skateboard or bicycle or roller blades into some portion of a memorial or a public artwork – you would have to intentionally do it,” Oh said. “And then you could be subject to a $1,000 fine and if you do it three times, you’ll be subject to going in front of a judge and having a judge consider giving you 30 days.”

The amendments passed and the bill will come up for a final vote next week. Oh feels pretty good about its chances, despite the opposition. “I think that Councilwoman Blackwell is very much a champion of what she considers the underdog and, in this case, I think she feels very strongly and has been a champion of the skateboarders, but I think this a segment that is not worth defending,” he said. “This is just vandals.”


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