Although Pasco County suffered some spectacularly rough justice at the keyboard of a federal district judge recently, one stinging rebuke shouldn’t prevent policymakers from wading — soon — into another pond of constitutional murkiness.
After all, what we are talking about here involves nothing less than the county’s jealously guarded quality of life, as well as its future as a jurisdiction that aggressively defends its citizens against violations of the senses.
We are talking about the governmental muffling of all those mobile boom boxes whose rumbling bass vibes do violence to Pasco’s thoroughfares and neighborhoods, unnerving fellow travelers reduced to captive audiences by traffic and stop signals.
Pasco lawmakers, including those in the county’s several municipalities, have an opportunity to act against this blight on their constituents’ eardrums because the Legislature failed to do so — the heroic efforts of rookie Sen. Wilton Simpson notwithstanding.
Simpson’s bill, correctly
described in a Tampa Tribune editorial as “reasonable,” would have created a statewide ban on sounds — all sounds, making it First Amendment-neutral — coming from a vehicle’s speakers that were plainly audible from 25 feet. It died late in the session on a 19-19 vote.
The defeat was addressed memorably by Jeff Clemens, the Lake Worth Democrat, former journalist, and tribute band guitarist, whose opposition encapsulated modern leftism: “I believe in the healing power of music,” he said, “and if I want to drive down the street and heal everybody around me, I should be able to.”
In other words: We decide what’s good for you. You have to take it.
More notable — also substantially more thoughtful — was the surprise resistance of Simpson’s Pasco legislative delegation colleague John Legg, the Trinity Republican with a libertarian streak who, arguably, cast the deciding vote.
Legg, no big advocate for throbbing music on tires, objected because the bill would have made loud music a primary violation, rendering otherwise law-abiding motorists subject to mischievous police work — a thought never far from the mind of someone whose commute takes him through assorted small towns along U.S. 27.
Here’s the problem:
In the absence of Simpson’s Sunshine State standard, counties and municipalities are free to adopt their own regulations, and some already have done so. Sarasota has a nuisance-noise ordinance. Thursday, Tampa’s city council gave preliminary approval to one with shark’s teeth that includes jail time for serial offenders. Lakeland’s was tossed in a court challenge.
The early evidence is clear, however. Florida could become a patchwork of competing ordinances adopted by local lawmakers in the interest of promoting a more peaceful quality of life. Meanwhile, motorists traveling the byways won’t know from one town to the next just how much they can pump up, say, the finale of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”
If for no other reason than to add to the chaos that forces the Legislature’s hand, Pasco’s commissioners and council members should act. Not that there aren’t other reasons. Good ones.
Car stereos that go pounding along create aural vandalism, the audible version of the theory of broken windows; neglected, one blight invites others far worse as bad actors probe the limits of the local envelope.
So while Clemens celebrates the auto-audiophile’s claim on self-expression, what happens when those with less regard for 2 chainz or Andre Nickatina rattling their windows express themselves with, say, paintball guns? Where’s your healing power now?
Most of all, we need the ban so a certain columnist — blush — at the end of a trying day, will never again exit his car at a red light and march to the driver’s window of the car throbbing deafeningly behind him so he can politely suggest the punkish 20-something behind the wheel should stop sharing.
We need that ban because you can’t always count on a policewoman arriving at that very moment to recommend, sternly, the columnist return to the security of his driver’s seat, where he can reflect on just how crazy he’d just been.
We need that ban. And we need it now.