D.C. Can Require Tour Guides to Get Licensed

(CN) – The District of Columbia can require sightseeing tour guides to pass a licensing exam to ensure they “are at least minimally qualified,” a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman in Washington, D.C., dismissed the First Amendment claims of Tonia Edwards and Bill Main, who own a sightseeing company called Segs in the City.
Segs in the City rents Segways for guided tours of D.C., Annapolis, Baltimore and Maryland, and maintains contact with customers during the tours via a radio earpiece to describe points of interest and answer questions.
The District of Columbia requires sightseeing tour guides to pay $200 each to take a 100-question exam based on general knowledge of the nation’s capital. Those convicted of conducting tours without a license are subject to a fine of up to $300 and a maximum of three months in jail.
Edwards and Main claimed that the regulations imposed on them and on the college kids they hire during the summer are unconstitutional, because they restrict their abilities to say what they want about the city.
The tour guides sought summary judgment, claiming the regulations violate their free speech rights, but Judge Friedman ruled instead for the District of Columbia.
Friedman said the First Amendment argument fails, because the licensing requirement regulates conduct — specifically guiding, directing or escorting a sightseeing tour — rather than speech.
He also ruled that the district’s interest in regulating tours using an exam was not rooted in the suppression of speech.
“The testing requirement ensures that individuals who are paid to lead tourists to different places of interest in the district have some basic knowledge about those sites,” Friedman wrote in his 22-page opinion. “But it goes too far to say the government’s interest in promoting tourism through a minimum competency examination therefore relates to the suppression of speech, or even that the speech element is being directly regulated. Rather, the examination serves as a basic consumer protection function by ensuring that persons selling their services — those of a knowledgeable and trustworthy guide — are at least minimally qualified to do so.”
Friedman also rejected the tour guides’ claim that the regulations were “illegitimate” until the District of Columbia provided evidence showing that a lack of licensing was a threat to the public welfare.
Friedman deemed the requirement necessary to promote the general welfare of tourists and visitors.

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