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A 9NEWS Twitter follower named Alberta Neuleib asked us whether Denver's City Council legalized using city sidewalks as public restrooms.
“Please tell me this isn't true,” Neuleib tweeted. “This is not what I want to see when I come to Denver.”
WHAT WE FOUND
9NEWS' Verify team has good news for Neuleib. It's not true.
The story she sent us comes from a website called Joe For America. It's run by Joe Wurzelbacher aka. Joe the Plumber.
If you've followed politics for a while you will remember Wurzelbacher from the 2008 presidential election. He's the guy from Ohio who made national headlines after he asked
President Barack Obama about his small business tax policy.
The article in question appeared Dec. 23. It claims that it's now legal to defecate and urinate on Denver sidewalks thanks to a unanimous city council vote.
First things first, Denver's City Council did meet Monday, Dec. 18, but it didn't vote on anything related to peeing in public.
Here's a link to the agenda if you want to see for yourself.
The real change to Denver's public urination law happened back in May when the council changed the penalties for certain low-level crimes as part of a sentencing reform bill.
The author of the fake story simply copied and pasted lines from our real story and changed the context.
The law didn't decriminalize public urination or unauthorized camping. You can still serve up to 60 days in jail for both if you're caught.
The difference is you previously faced up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $999.
“With this ordinance, we will insure the punishment fits the severity of the offense,” Mayor Michael Hancock said at the time.
One of the reasons Hancock gave for reducing the penalties for crimes like park curfews, unauthorized camping and public urination was it could help legal immigrants stay in the country.
Immigration officials look at the maximum sentence for a crime when deciding whether to deport visa holders or put them on a path to citizenship. Crimes that carry a sentence of a year or more can trigger deportation – even if the person paid a fine or served one day.
That's not how the article on Wurzelbacher's website portrayed the city's reasoning.
The false story said Hancock “and some of the city officials explained that the new ordinances are designed to protect immigrants, legal and illegal, from 'unintended consequences.'”
You can listen to Hancock's entire statement on the sentencing reform bill by clicking here.
The one part of the story that's true is city officials did say they removed fines for certain “quality of life crimes” like being in a park after curfew and panhandling because these offenses are most often committed by homeless people.
Finally, 9NEWS contacted the Denver Police Department to see whether citations for public urination increased since the lesser penalties went into effect.
Public urination citations have dropped every year since 2014, according to numbers provided by DPD.
In 2014, police cited 549 people and as of Friday they'd cited 369 people for 2017.
Denver lowered the penalties for certain low-level offenses like public urination, but it didn't make these acts legal. And the council didn't legalize peeing in public to keep unauthorized immigrants in the city.