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ACLU threatens lawsuit over Fremont Street performer regulations

Updated April 19, 2022 - 11:11 am

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada on Monday again threatened to sue the city of Las Vegas over its proposed changes to rules that govern buskers on Fremont Street.

Before ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah stepped to the dais and urged the city to proceed with caution, however, city officials had already indicated that they wished to delay the matter.

“The city manager’s office would like more time to work with stakeholders to make sure that the language achieves what we’re trying to achieve in creating a safe environment out on the pedestrian mall,” said Tom Perrigo, the city’s chief operations and development officer, testifying to the city’s Recommending Committee.

The three-member panel of Las Vegas City Council members was expected to consider new regulations for street performers at the Fremont Street Experience — the first proposed amendments in nearly seven years — prompted by “overwhelming evidence” that some buskers were exploiting a daily lottery system enacted in 2015.

The city is considering requirements that street performers obtain photo verification cards as part of the registration process and that certain buskers hold general liability insurance of at least $1 million, among other changes.

But the delay and the warning of litigation made it clear that such changes would not come easily, echoing the challenges of passing regulations at the canopy-covered pedestrian mall in 2011 and again four years later.

“We view this as a solution that’s not really practical or necessary should it be done,” Haseebullah said to the panel. “Quite frankly, in our opinion, the ordinances have already went too far in restricting First Amendment speech.”

Bad faith negotiations?

The Fremont Street Experience has long been the subject of a debate on free speech as a public forum managed by a private operator.

Patrick Reilly, an attorney representing the Fremont Street Experience, accused the ACLU of Nevada of acting in bad faith, noting that the group had been involved in previous amendments and also a part of negotiations for over a year on the current proposal.

“I want to make it clear: We’ve been acting in good faith at all times,” Reilly said. “We’ve been working with the city. I don’t feel like that’s been — that good faith has been returned from the ACLU.”

New busker regulations in downtown Las Vegas are a “priority” for the city, according to Perrigo, but he could not provide a firm timeline for when an updated ordinance would return to city lawmakers. The proposal, in its current form, is expected to be stricken by the City Council in early May as a procedural matter, he said.

Councilwoman Michele Fiore, a member of the city’s Recommending Committee, said that a street performer was arrested for indecent exposure in New York City when she visited a few months ago. And Fiore said she feared that, without an updated ordinance, a similar occurrence could happen on Fremont Street, where she claimed some supposed buskers were not truly performers at all.

“This is such an important ordinance,” she said.

Fiore also appeared undeterred by the prospect of seeing the ACLU in court: “We’re sued by you guys all the time — bring it.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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