Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Local Governments Going After Saggy Pants-Wearers

Municipalities across the South, most recently in Tennessee, have cited concerns for the health of their residents — among other reasons — in expansions of local public indecency laws to include people whose pants droop well below their waist.

However, although some chiropractors and “posture experts” have warned the public of health issues associated with sagging, there doesn’t appear to be much conclusive evidence in support of that claim.

An ordinance approved June 30 by the City Council of Pikeville suggests evidence exists “that indicates that wearing sagging pants is injurious to the health of the wearer as it causes improper gait.”

According to language in the ordinance, the state public indecency law “allows for some behavior that is considered indecent.” Sagging pants fit the definition, Mayor Phil Cagle told TNReport Monday, although he said the ordinance is meant to give cops authority to arrest people for wearing “anything that’s considered indecent.”

“It wasn’t passed just for saggy britches, we just added that to it because we were getting — some of that looked like it was getting started here, and all you could do is just ask them to pull their pants up,” Cagle said.

He added that the city just wanted to pass a stiffer rule than what the state already has on the books. The only significant difference between the Tennessee Code language and the Pikeville ordinance, which resembles several other laws passed in towns throughout Alabama, Louisiana, FloridaGeorgia and Mississippi, is the inclusion of  an express declaration that  “the exposure of a person’s buttocks, and genital area or undergarments is offensive and indecent.”

Cagle said that they used an ordinance “almost word for word” brought to him by the Pikeville City Attorney from a law previously passed by a Georgia city.

The definition for indecent exposure of undergarments is provided as anyone “wearing pants or skirts more than three inches below the top of the hips.” The ordinance requires a fine of at least $25 for an initial offense, and up to $50 for each subsequent offense.

Cagle said that in the month since the law went into effect, the Pikeville police haven’t had to write a single citation for public indecency. “We haven’t even had to give a warning yet,” he said. The initial passage of the law by Pikeville garnered widespread media attention, including from  The Daily Mail, The Independent, and Huffington Post.

South Pittsburgh’s city council also recently indicated an interest in passing their own legal requirement for higher waistlines when City Commissioner Jimmy Wigfall suggested at a meeting that they could use “some type of ordinance where you can only sag just so low or something.” The City Attorney told commission members that he would review other towns’ ordinances and have something for them at the next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 12.

Although laws targeting sagging have been around since at least 2007, the wording related to “the health of the wearer,” seems to have first appeared in an ordinance passed by the city council of Dublin, Ga., in late 2010.

No source is given in the law for the claim that drooping waistlines can cause injury to the wearer, but Cagle told TNReport that there were studies and articles on the internet that offered the same evidence.

In 2012, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill — sponsored in the Senate by Ophelia Ford and in the House by Joe Towns Jr., both Memphis Democrats — that prohibited students from exposing undergarments through sagging, as well as requiring that sports bras be covered if “deemed inappropriate by school officials.” However, specific punishments were not included in the final bill that passed the legislature in 2012. Instead, individual school districts were given the authority to determine punishment for the infraction.

Towns told the Associated Press at the time that he hoped the law would encourage kids to dress better.

Additionally, in April of 2012, an Alabama judge sentenced a man to serve three days in jail for contempt of court for sagging in the courtroom where he was entering a plea on charges of receiving stolen property.

However, there is some question to the constitutionality of laws requiring that a person’s bottoms be a certain distance from their hips. According to Neil Richards, a professor of law at Washington University, these laws don’t fare well when challenged on First Amendment grounds. And the ACLU has been known to challenge similar laws on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Challenges to the laws go back several years, including a similar law in Florida that was ruled unconstitutional by a Florida Circuit Court judge in 2008 because of the case’s “limited facts,” after a 17-year-old Riviera Beach boy spent a night in jail on accusations of exposing too much underwear.

Press Releases

Pikeville Receives $59K Dept. of Ag Grant for Farmer’s Market

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture; July 8, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture today announced a $59,200 Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program grant to Bledsoe County and the city of Pikeville to help fund the construction of a new farmers market pavilion.

“I’m happy to announce this grant to help the county and city build a farmers market pavilion to better serve the area’s needs,” Haslam said. “The grant is part of our efforts to increase economic activity in our rural communities by responding to the growth in and demand for Tennessee’s fresh and local farm products.”

The grant follows a recommendation to increase local marketing opportunities for Tennessee farmers as outlined in the Governor’s Rural Challenge: A 10-Year Strategic Plan. The plan was developed last year at the request of Haslam to guide the state’s agricultural development efforts.

The grant is based on a proposal by the county and city to provide matching funds for the construction of a permanent pavilion for year-round use. The proposed 40 X 56-foot pavilion will be located at the site of the existing part-time market located in the downtown area of Pikeville.

The purpose of the TAEP Farmers Market Capital Development Grant Program is to increase income to Tennessee farmers by providing assistance for the establishment or improvement of farmers market in communities throughout the state.

“Farmers markets provide an excellent venue for farmers to sell their locally grown, farm fresh products directly to consumers,” Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson said. “Not only do these facilities help increase farm profitability but they also support agritourism and provide a focus for community and business activity year round.”

Gov. Haslam has fully funded the Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program for the past three years with the support of the Tennessee General Assembly. The program, funded through the state’s cigarette sales tax, was established in 2005 to help increase farm income and rural economic activity.

State Sen. Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey) and state Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) represent Bledsoe County in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Press Releases

Haslam Presents Pikeville with $250K Clean TN Energy Grant

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation; July 8, 2013:

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. – Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Commissioner Bob Martineau announced today a grant to help fund energy conservation improvements in Bledsoe County.

The City of Pikeville was awarded a $250,000 Clean Tennessee Energy Grant to install new windows, lighting, HVAC systems, and insulation at the old Pikeville Elementary School. This project is an essential first step towards retrofitting the old school and bringing it online as the new Pikeville Municipal Complex that will house the city’s municipal offices, police department, courtroom, community kitchen, and training facilities to aid with workforce development and industrial recruitment.

“I want to applaud Pikeville for its commitment to implementing energy efficient practices,” Haslam said. “Reducing our environmental impact helps us protect our great state for future generations while reducing costs for Tennessee taxpayers.”

This project is estimated to reduce electricity demand by 54,625 kilowatt hours annually and save the city more than $10,000 annually. This decrease in energy use will be a positive environmental benefit as it reduces air emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide.

Clean Tennessee Energy Grants are awarded to fund energy efficiency projects for local governments and municipalities, utilities, and other private and public organizations across Tennessee. Clean Tennessee Energy Grants support projects designed to reduce air emissions, improve energy efficiency and create cost savings. Eligible categories of the Clean Tennessee Energy Grant Program include:

  • Energy Conservation – lighting, HVAC improvements, improved fuel efficiency, insulation, idling minimization
  • Air Quality Improvement – reduction in greenhouse gases, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, oxides of nitrogen, hazardous air pollutants
  • Cleaner Alternative Energy – biomass, geothermal, solar, wind

Funding for the project comes from an April 2011 Clean Air Act settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority. Under the Consent Decree, Tennessee will receive $26.4 million over five years to fund clean air programs in the state (at approximately $5.25 million per year). Since 2012, the program has provided $11,851,480 in financial assistance through 67 grants to state and local government agencies, state colleges and universities, utility districts, and quasi-government entities in Tennessee to purchase, install and construct energy projects. The maximum grant amount per project is $250,000 and requires match from the applicant. Grant recipients were chosen based on the careful consideration to meet the selection criteria and for those projects that expressed the greatest need.