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Institute for Justice video: License to Describe, Defeating Washington DC's tour guide licensing scheme

Frivolous licensing is becoming the scheme of choice for members of industry groups to limit their competition, allowing them to charge inflated prices for their products or services. What makes this scheme so galling is that the government, which is supposed to serve all the people equally, helps these special interest groups shut out new competitors.

The Institute for Justice dedicates itself to fighting this kind of frivolous industry licensing because its sole purpose is to limit the economic freedom of others who want to make an honest living in that industry. We saw IJ take on the casket cartel in Louisiana. Now they're taking on Washington, DC's tour guide licensing racket because no one should be forced to purchase a license from the District of Columbia to tell other people stories about America's history.

May city officials in Washington, D.C., throw local tour guides in jail for up to 90 days for engaging in unauthorized talking?

This is the question the Institute for Justice (IJ) seeks to answer in a federal lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Two area tour guides--Tonia Edwards and Bill Main--are joining forces with IJ to strike down the city's tour guide licensing scheme as a violation of their fundamental constitutional rights.

"The government cannot be in the business of deciding who may speak and who may not," said Robert McNamara, a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm with a history of defending free speech and the rights of entrepreneurs. "The Constitution protects your right to communicate for a living, whether you are a journalist, a musician or a tour guide."

Together, Tonia Edwards and Bill Main run Segs in the City, which provides fun and informative Segway "safaris" in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. There is, however, a key difference between the three cities: In D.C., doing this makes them criminals. Currently, for telling their customers that the National Archives houses the Bill of Rights, Tonia and Bill could be fined and sentenced to 90 days in jail.

The District's licensing scheme makes it illegal for anyone to "guide or escort" anyone else for hire without first passing a test and obtaining a special license. The prohibition on unauthorized talking covers all of the public spaces in D.C.--including roads and sidewalks.

"This is a very important case because it is about our constitutional right to speak," said Tonia Edwards. "We have a business license to operate, but the government cannot force us to get an additional license to speak. When we win, we will protect not only ourselves, but the free speech rights of countless other entrepreneurs as well."

A similar IJ lawsuit in Philadelphia has garnered significant national media attention, including coverage from All Things Considered and the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is a public interest law firm that fights for free speech and economic liberty nationwide.


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Comments (5)

Good idea. That is a frivo... (Below threshold)

Good idea. That is a frivolous license.

While this law is still on ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

While this law is still on the books, can anyone find out if President Obama obtained the necessary license for all his lecturing to us since January 2009?

Can we get a mandatory lice... (Below threshold)

Can we get a mandatory license to be a politician? The test would be based on the ability to verbally answer questions in a straightforward manner and on reading comprehension (specifically the US Constitution).

So here I am, I'm in Las Ve... (Below threshold)

So here I am, I'm in Las Vegas, NV. I'm looking for work. I figured, hey, it can't be that hard to find work in Clark County, I mean there is like 2 million something people here. There MUST be work available.

Not only is unemployment sky high here, and the few jobs that are available are over flowing with applicants, making it hard to get one of those few jobs. But without knowing someone it's even harder to get a job. Now this may seem off topic, but it isn't.

So I went and applied to a job as a security guard. I got told that before my application would be looked at I had to apply and get a "Sheriffs Card" which costs 85, or 95 dollars depending on if you bring your own passport photo's...

So I looked into getting a job at a gas station as a cashier. Pretty simple right? Before the manager would even look at my application, she asked me if I had a "Health card", and a "TAM card", and a "Sheriffs Card"... I'm serious, I needed to get three different licenses to be able to be considered for a job.

The "Health Card" has to do with food service, cross contamination and safe food handling skills, This includes a vaccination for Hepatitis A.

The TAM card is the TECHNIQUES OF ALCOHOL MANAGEMENT CARD. Basically teaching you the Nevada laws regarding Alcohol.

Since 1947, to work on the premises where liquor and gaming are present a person must obtain a Sheriff's Card, (Work Card). It is mandatory in the State of Nevada regardless of what your position is in a gaming establishment. The purpose of the work card is to document, investigate and license all employees of the gaming and liquor industry.

Each of these licenses require a fee, sometimes actual classroom time. To a person who is new to the area, unemployed and doesn't have any connections finding a job here in Clark County is both difficult, and extremely expensive for the job hunter.

Apparently here in Nevada, the state feels it must be diligent in making sure that employee's are properly trained at the expense of the job hunter, instead of at the expense of the employer.

Anybody using Segways as pa... (Below threshold)

Anybody using Segways as part of their 'tour guiding' experience should be both arrested AND shot, imo.






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