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St. Paul leaders are renewing a push for a charter change that would give the city the ability to impose fines for code violations ranging from wage theft to property negligence to dog bites.

Officials say St. Paul lacks a tool that most other cities have to enforce its ordinances. Staff are instead sometimes forced to address lower-level code violations with criminal citations, which involve a lengthy prosecution process and can leave someone with a criminal record.

"Our goal as the city is that we want compliance with city codes that is consistent, timely and graduated," Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher said.

But opponents have argued administrative fines can disproportionately hurt low-income residents or be used to target marginalized populations. Two attempts to make the change in recent years have failed due to insufficient support from the City Council and the judicially-appointed Charter Commission.

In a presentation to the council Wednesday, city staff described instances when administrative fines may have been an effective means of law enforcement.

Angie Wiese, director of the Department of Safety and Inspections, said staff heard from a bus driver who lost their job after receiving a criminal citation for not painting their house in a timely manner.

Beth Commers, interim director of Human Rights and Labor Standards, said the courts still haven't resolved a violation of the city's earned sick and safe time law that was filed in 2019.

"Administrative citations would be another tool in our toolbox to accomplish the goal," Wiese said. "And the goal is to get compliance."

Since four of the council's seven seats turned over at the start of the year, Council President Mitra Jalali said she is hopeful the measure will be passed. The city needs to be able to address code violations when residents come forward, she said.

"One of the worst feelings of an elected official is powerlessness," Jalali said.

Jalali said she expects the council to come forward with a resolution asking the Charter Commission to consider the change in the coming months. If an amendment is approved there, it goes to the council, where it must receive unanimous support to pass.

In 2021, a proposal failed by a 7-6 Charter Commission vote. Seven of the group's 15 members have terms expiring at the end of July.

If the effort stalls a third time, officials noted the city charter can also be changed by ballot measure.

If the charter is changed, the council would then lay out when and how administrative fines can be issued. Council members have suggested they could be used to enforce a number of ordinances passed in recent years, including rent stabilization and minimum wage laws.