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Taming Las Vegas Street Performances Tabled

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Las Vegas street performers
Matthew Straubmuller/Flickr

The Las Vegas City Council put off a vote on new rules for street performers.

A proposal to tame the often rowdy and revealing gauntlet of downtown Las Vegas entertainers will get more time for city leaders to craft the rules.

The Las Vegas City Council voted Wednesday to continue discussing the proposal at its next Sept. 16 meeting that would set up at least 38 zones, six-feet in diameter, where performers would entertain for tips during peak hours. If approved, it's expected to take effect Nov. 1.

City Attorney Brad Jerbic said street performers wishing to perform along Fremont Street's casino-lined pedestrian mall in the zones between 3 p.m. and 1 a.m. would have to register at no cost and provide identification that would be on file but not given to law enforcement unless a criminal complaint was made against the person.

The proposed ordinance also doesn't dictate what a performer might wear.

The issue of costumes has come under scrutiny because some people are wearing next to nothing and not really performing but simply asking for money for taking a picture with tourists.  

City Councilman Bob Beers told KNPR's State of Nevada that the city can't dictate what people wear because it would violate the performers' rights.

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“Offensive and disgusting is allowed under the First Amendment as it is currently interpreted by the Supreme Court, especially by the 9th Circuit,” Beers explained.

Alan Lichenstein is an attorney for several buskers downtown and agrees with Beers that all speech, even that of a man dressed in nothing but a jockstrap and angel's wings, is protected.

“The First Amendment protects good performance and bad performance," Lichenstein said. "You don’t get First Amendment protection based on the quality of what you’re saying or expressing.”

However, some council members said they didn't believe it was protected speech.

"A lot of the women look like they just walked out of a strip club," said Councilman Ricki Barlow, who proposed the ordinance, adding that he didn't think that falls in the category of First Amendment protections. "I love art, but I just don't consider that to be artistic in any way."

The ordinance does not include a background check, which some council members asked if it should. 

Beers said one problem with a background check is that it costs money and since the city is not planning on collecting fees for registering, they don't have money to use for checks. 

He also said that they city attorney warned background checks would add a constitutional issue that would make the ordinance more susceptible to a court challenge. 

Nevada's ACLU chapter has been working on the proposal with the city to make the ordinance more about where performers can entertain versus where they can't, which has led to confusion and competition among performers who stake out prime spots along the thoroughfare.

During Tuesday's city council meeting, dozens of people who, when on Fremont Street, are impersonators, balloon artists, musicians and sometimes scantily clad street performers, told the council they worry the proposal might destroy their livelihoods, violate their rights to free speech, fail to do enough to curb a chaotic, competitive environment and cause more animosity among performers all vying for 38 spaces.

Beers believes the ordinance will calm some of the chaos just by being in place.

“What it will do by bringing some semblance of order to that chaotic scene is perhaps scare off some of the seamier folks, maybe not even disgusting, but just seamy folks,” Beers said. 

However, Lichenstein said he's not sure the ordnance will work and he believes no one is really sure, but he said if it doesn't work and isn't applied fairly, lawsuits will be filed.

Beers said the issue of time allotment for the spaces and decibel levels are still being worked out. He also pointed out that many other cities have used similar rules and those rules have been upheld by courts.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

Guests

Bob Beers, councilman, Las Vegas City Council; Alan Lichenstein, attorney

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