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Could spitting finally be legal in Minneapolis? Controversial laws up for repeal

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If you've worn a hat in a movie theater, spat on the sidewalk, or just looked suspicious in public in Minneapolis, chances are you've broken the law.

A number of "antiquated laws" are still on the books in Minnesota's biggest city, and in some cases, still enforced. But a new effort to remove them is underway at Minneapolis City Council, and a public hearing to discuss them is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Two councilmen, Cam Gordon and Blong Yang, are sponsoring an effort to repeal "lurking" and spitting laws, which they say may be putting a disproportionate number of people of color in handcuffs, city clerk documents show.

The lurking law stipulates that "no person, in any public or private place, shall lurk, lie in wait or be concealed with intent to commit any crime or unlawful act," according to city ordinances.

Gordon and Yang's thought is the ordinance may give police officers too much power to judge whether a person has criminal intent.

Between 2009-2014, over two-thirds of people arrested or cited for "lurking" were people of color – 59 percent of whom were black, the document says, despite the fact the city is nearly 64 percent white, according to U.S. Census data.

Repealing the ordinance does have its opponents. The newly elected president of the Minneapolis police officers' union told MPR News it's a "legitimate" law enforcement tool, saying officers are neither targeting certain citizens nor "randomly pulling people over" for frivolous reasons.

Spitting on the sidewalk

The city's ordinance on spitting or disposing of tobacco says "no person shall spit or expectorate or deposit or place any sputum, spittle, saliva, phlegm, mucus, tobacco juice, cigarette stumps, cigar stumps or quids of tobacco" in any part of a public building or on the street, among a laundry list of other locations.

This ordinance was passed in 1898 and amended slightly in 1904 – a time when the city council was hoping to help prevent the spread of tuberculosis, the city clerk document shows.

Some have raised concerns that this law may perpetuate racism and classism in the criminal justice system, even if unintentional, Gordon and Yang note in the document.

From 2011-14, there were 29 citations for "spitting; depositing tobacco" – of them, 13 citations were issued to people of color, one was issued to a white person, and in 15 instances the race was not identified, the document says.

Other odd laws

Meanwhile, Councilor Andrew Johnson is undertaking a similar effort to remove what he calls antiquated laws as part of Minneapolis' Business Made Simple campaign – an effort to simplify regulations to make it easier and faster for businesses to get the proper permits, MinnPost reports.

He announced notions of intent to repeal several city ordinances last week.

Some of the ordinances were written over 50 years ago, Johnson told KARE 11, adding they may have "had a purpose" at one time, but now "they're just no longer needed."

Aside from an ordinance making the wearing of a hat in a theater illegal, Johnson also has his sights on repealing an old law regulating businesses that sell ice from lakes and rivers in Minneapolis and one that requires a license to operate a jukebox.

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