Saggy pants law pulled by main backer

The Augusta Commission killed a proposed saggy pants law Tuesday, with its sponsor calling it unneeded and a possible infringement on free expression.

 

Commissioner Corey Johnson said he's changed his mind since last week's Public Services Committee meeting, when he pitched changing the public indecency ordinance so that anyone whose sagging pants cause "exposure of the buttocks" could be cited, fined as much as $150 and sentenced to community service.

Mr. Johnson called the fad -- which started in penal institutions and is thought to be an invitation to prison sex -- a "moral problem" that should be dealt with by the school system, churches and civic groups. He moved to withdraw his proposal, and the commission voted unanimously in support.

"I think this is something that, of course, is a huge disparity in our community," Mr. Johnson said. "It's definitely something everybody's paying attention to, but I don't see this ordinance really addressing the actual concern appropriately."

Commissioner Calvin Holland commended Mr. Johnson for raising the issue, saying the publicity he has generated might already be leading to change. It's good that young people know elected officials care about how they present themselves, he said, but fixing the problem needs to start with parents.

"One thing that we cannot do, we cannot legislate morality, and we cannot legislate self-respect," Mr. Holland said.

Saggers usually wear baggy jeans around their thighs, exposing boxer shorts. Hip-hop artists popularized the trend, but it has been linked to prisons where inmates are denied belts and tie strings to prevent strangulations.

City bans have been passed in Louisiana, Connecticut and the Georgia towns of Hahira, Hawkinsville and Warner Robins. Others are pending in Atlanta; Charleston, S.C.; and Waynesboro, Ga.

Unlike ordinances that have drawn fire from the American Civil Liberties Union, Mr. Johnson's proposal would have allowed police to cite saggers only for showing too much skin, not underwear.

He said Tuesday that the current city code covers indecent exposure.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.