Spring Break Court returning to Key West to handle drinking arrests



Looking ahead to early March and the annual college Spring Break, Key West Mayor Craig Cates is calling for a crackdown on drinking at public beaches, which fits nicely with City Commissioner Tony Yaniz's initiative to bring back Spring Break Court.

Held between 1991 and 2007, Spring Break Court was convened with participation from local law enforcement, prosecutors and judges. It was designed to give minor offenders an opportunity to avoid further court proceedings and a record by paying a $40 fine and performing eight hours of community service, mostly cleaning up trash along the city streets.

Diminishing need saw it cancelled. Offenses covered include things such as using fake ID, urinating in public and underage drinking.

"This allows the cops to give someone a notice to appear and kind of helps with the underage drinking and at the same time we get a workforce," Yaniz said at Tuesday's City Commission meeting. "The only reason it didn't continue was because there weren't enough arrests. I think it's a good thing."

"I'm looking forward to giving this try, beginning in March, probably for two to three weeks at the height of the Spring Break."

As for drinking on the beaches, Cates added, "I'm going to say right here for the record, I will not support open containers on our beach this year. It's not legally allowed there and we should not allow it. It just causes problems."

Yaniz said he has gotten support from Monroe County State Attorney Catherine Vogel and County Judge Wayne Miller, among others. In the last incarnation, Judge Peary Fowler presided over Spring Break Court.

In 2012, Key West received the dubious distinction of being listed on website Coed Magazine's list of the top 10 trashiest Spring Break destinations in the country.

It's criteria was the presence of one or more Hooters restaurants (there is no Hooters in Key West); the number of strip clubs, tattoo parlors and liquor stores there are; whether the city hosts an annual motorcycle week; and whether film crews from "Girls Gone Wild" produce footage there.

The annual hard-partying Spring Break, centered in Key West but countywide, is the next big tourism spike on the horizon for Monroe County.

Spring Break starts on March 3 for the University of Florida, Gainesville; University of Central Florida, Orlando; Florida Memorial University, Miami Gardens; Florida Southern College, Lakeland; and Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers.

It starts March 10 for Florida State University, Tallahassee; the University of Miami; and the University of South Florida, Tampa.

Florida Keys Community College starts its break March 24.

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