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Town bid to regulate large crowds raises concerns

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ELLETTSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A southern Indiana town council is considering regulating gatherings of 250 or more people, but its proposal to exempt worship services has raised concerns among some people.

The ordinance discussed by the Ellettsville Town Council at its meeting last week would require groups to apply for permits before planning events that may attract 250 or more people. Such events would include festivals, concerts, exhibitions, social gatherings and meetings, but school activities, the Monroe County Fall Festival and worship services would be exempt, the Herald-Times reported (http://bit.ly/1n14Isk ).

The ordinance is intended to protect public health, safety and welfare by preventing riots, unnecessary noise, nuisances, unsanitary conditions, public indecency and uncontrolled gatherings. The goal is to give the town input over mass gatherings, town attorney Darla Brown said.

"The point is for the town to have some input in how these events are organized," said Darla Brown, attorney for the town about 45 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

"If a business that traditionally has 100 or 200 people decides they want to have a party and will expect more people, you get into the safety issues," Brown said. "If police feel they need to have a greater presence out there, they can make arrangements to do that."

The proposal calls for an application fee of $50 for gatherings of 250 or more people. Applications for "major" gatherings of 500 or more persons would cost $250. Failure to apply and receive a permit before the event could result in a $500 fine.

Ken Falk, legal director for American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said the proposal raises concerns.

"There would be nothing wrong with an ordinance that said that if more than 250 people want to gather, you have to get a permit," Falk said. "But to say that (events on) private property can't be organized by a large group of people, unless it's a church property, becomes very problematic."

Context neutrality is key in writing a legal mass gathering ordinance, Falk said.

Brown said the idea for the ordinance originated from an incident last year in which a local business wanted to have an event coinciding with Little 500 weekend on the campus of Indiana University in nearby Bloomington.

"This is a work in progress," Brown said. "It's not finished yet."

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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