Consider yourself warned: If you wear a hat in a Minneapolis theater, you could be arrested.
That’s what the city code says, anyway. And it’s not just hats that could put you on the wrong side of the law. If “during the performance of the program in a theater, auditorium or place of amusement,” anyone is wearing headgear or conducts “himself in a manner which interferes unreasonably with the view or enjoyment of another person of the stage or screen or place of activity” you are breaking the law.
But there is an effort to decriminalize headgear wearing. Council Member Andrew Johnson will give formal notice Friday to fellow council members that he would like to repeal the section of the code titled: “Hats, conduct in theaters.” It is among a batch of ordinances that are intended to clean up the city code, making it consistent with state law or ridding it of offenses that might be irritating but shouldn’t be crimes.
Another proposal would get rid of most of the city’ regulation of ice peddlers, for example, as well as the licensing and regulation of jukeboxes. It is part of Johnson’s effort to rid the code of antiquated sections that sound silly but could possibly be used against a person or business. And it all fits in with the city’s Business Made Simple campaign being pushed by Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Attorney Susan Segal. The idea is to simplify regulation and put in policies that make it easier and quicker to get permits.
Does the city enforce the hat ban?
“I don’t think we have records going back far enough to figure out when, if ever, anyone has been cited for wearing a hat in a theater or place of ‘public amusement.”’ Certainly not in modern times,” said Segal.
Johnson gets that some might think the repeal of silly ordinances is itself silly. He jokes that as the council’s tallest member he isn’t bothered by theater-going hat wearers and is more likely to be the guy someone taps on the shoulder and asks to move to the back. But he gets serious when explaining that silly ordinances could interfere with someone planning a business, even if they’re not enforced. And he cites an example from before his election. He and a few friends wanted to start a non-profit that would encourage micro-gardening with the produce collected and sold at low prices in farmers markets. But a city ordinance that restricted the number of days that someone could sell their own produce gave them pause.
“We didn’t want to spend a year getting it off the ground and then have it fall apart because someone decided to enforce the ordinance,” he said. That piece of code has since been corrected.
So, what is a “place of amusement” under the hat ordinance? Might it include sports stadiums where just about every patron is wearing a hat? Segal said the ordinance could be interpreted to cover the ballpark (though there might be a defense — the accused could show that he or she wasn’t getting much amusement from watching the Twins).
The ballpark situation raises a question about another section of the same ordinance, the one that puts the owner of the theater or place of amusement on the hook for making sure the ordinance is enforced.
But what if the owner of the joint gave everyone who comes in a hat or other headgear, as the Twins intend to do Saturday with their Fur Bomber Hat promotion? Said Johnson: “They’re committing misdemeanors right and left.”
Probably better to just repeal the ordinance.