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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The South Kingstown Town Council has taken a first step toward establishing municipal and housing courts in town to handle violations of local ordinances.

The council voted on Monday to support a resolution that requests that enabling legislation be introduced in the current session of the General Assembly in order to establish the courts. South Kingstown’s state senators and representatives would need to support the proposal at the state level.

The request noted that 29 municipalities in Rhode Island currently have either a municipal or housing court.

The town’s solicitors argue that it’s wise to seek the authorization, because a housing court would have power over statutory violations that would otherwise be adjudicated in District Court or Superior Court.

“When it comes to enforcing zoning and housing code violations, to be able to have a local court here at Town Hall for individuals to come instead of having to deal with the glacial speed of the regular court system for minor-type activities would be a big plus,” solicitor Michael Ursillo said.

The legislation might be introduced by the end of the current session, but if not it could be introduced in January when the General Assembly reconvenes.

If approved, the council would then have the ability to appoint a judge and clerk to the housing court. Both also could then serve on the municipal court, although the legislation doesn’t make it a requirement. The council then would appoint a separate judge and clerk, if necessary.

The legislation also gives the council the authority to set up how the court operates and set any costs and fees associated with its operation.

The housing court would hear and determine cases involving the violation of the zoning ordinances of the town and any violation of the Rhode Island zoning enabling act of 1991, the Historical Zoning Act, the Minimum Housing Standards Act, Housing Maintenance and Occupancy Code, Subdivision and Land Development Act, and local ordinances or regulations related to those documents. State building code violations also are included.

Any party wishing to appeal a court decision would have 20 days after judgment to file an appeal to the Superior Court.

The council also may give the housing court the power “to restrain, prevent, enjoin, abate, or correct a violation; To order the repair, vacation, or demolition of any dwelling existing in violation; To otherwise compel compliance with all of the provisions of those ordinances, regulations, and statutes; To order a dwelling into receivership and to order the removal of any cloud on the title to the building or property,” according to the legislation.

The municipal court would allow any defendant found guilty of any offense, excluding zoning and housing violations addressed in housing court, to file an appeal to Superior Court within seven days of conviction.

The municipal court may impose a fine no more than $500 for each offense. The court is also empowered to administer oaths, call witnesses, punish people for contempt and execute search warrants, provided the warrants could also be executed by a district court judge.

Later Monday, the council passed a resolution amending the town beach policy for the 2019 season by changing the opening date to May 25 and re-instituting a two-vehicle allowance for resident transferable passes.

“Several  residents voiced concern over the change to the fee structure indicating that they purchase the transferable pass specifically for the two vehicle allowance,” Director of Leisure Services Theresa Murphy said. The primary reason for the change to a single vehicle allowance was due to the abuse of the two-vehicle allowance by some pass holders, she said.

“That being said, in light of the recent public input, the department recommends re-establishing the  two vehicle allowance for transferable passes, for residents. In order to curb the ‘additional vehicle’ abuse, two separate passes will be issued to the buyer and vehicles must be in possession of a pass in order to park at the beach.”

The change of the opening date to May 25 instead of May 20 is because of limited staff availability before Memorial Day weekend. The beach will operate on weekends only until June 15, when it will open full-time.

Also Monday, the council placed on file an April 24 resolution from the Burrillville Town Council designating that town as a Second Amendment Sanctuary Town.

The Second Amendment sanctuary movement pledges to uphold the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and oppose any new efforts on the part of state legislators to further restrict firearms. On April 24, Burrillville was the first town to declare itself a Second Amendment sanctuary town, followed by Hopkinton, West Greenwich and Foster.

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