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01-18-2006, 07:49 PM
Public urination law may change
By Jake Wagman (jwagman@post-dispatch.com)

Just in time for the city's largest street party, a St. Louis alderman and tavern keeper is seeking to change the law against urinating in public.

Alderman Ken Ortmann, with an eye toward next month's Mardi Gras celebration, introduced a bill that he hopes will lower the penalties for some instances of public urination.

Public urination "does not uniformly constitute indecent exposure," Ortmann's bill states, and should not always be grouped with sex offenses and similar crimes.

Ortmann, who runs the Cat's Meow bar in Soulard, says police should not throw the book at all revelers caught leaving their mark in the neighborhood. His bill would allow police to issue a different citation for those trying to be discreet.

He insists that he is not trying to give offenders a break - just trying to make the punishment more in line with the crime.

"There's a difference between going in the middle of the street, in front of God and country, and somebody who is behind a Dumpster," said Ortmann, whose 9th Ward includes a slice of Soulard.

Ortmann's bill was introduced Thursday and referred to the Public Safety Committee, where Chairman Terry Kennedy said the bill would get a quick hearing.

If it is put on the fast track for approval, the bill could become law before the Mardi Gras grand parade on Feb. 25. If passed, it would apply to events around the city, from concerts to sporting events.

The bill exempts children under the age of 6 and those who "may not be able to adequately control" bodily functions due to a medical condition.

The current penalty for lewd and lascivious conduct, which includes public urination, is a fine of $100 to $500, 90 days in jail or both. Ortmann's proposal maintains the maximum penalties, but the alderman said he hopes the actual penalty would be considerably less.

Police Chief Joe Mokwa supports the bill. He acknowledged that public urination does not need to be included in the same law that covers "indecent and lewd conduct" such as exposing genitalia or performing a sex act in public.

"Not that urinating in public is not offensive enough," Mokwa said.

And not that there won't be plenty of flashing in Soulard next month.

But public urination can be harder to ignore, especially to Soulard residents who are sensitive about outsiders coming to the neighborhood for Mardi Gras - and leaving it in worse condition when they arrived.

Mary Linden, who has lived in Soulard for more than 30 years, says widespread public urination is the part of Mardi Gras residents abhor. "It's disgusting. We hate it," she said.

Some homeowners leave their sprinklers on, she said, in hopes of discouraging partygoers from using their lawns as a bathroom. "That's what the portable toilets are for," Linden said.

"We don't appreciate going out and seeing it - the people are often belligerent," she said. "We have many, many Johnny on the Spots. Maybe it's not enough."

jwagman@post-dispatch.com 314-622-3580