NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Four tour guides sued New Orleans over a law that makes them "subject to imprisonment for up to 5 months and $300 in fines per violation if they speak to their customers about 'points of interest' in New Orleans without the city's permission."
The guides, all women, say "they are committed to protecting their First Amendment right to speak freely to others about New Orleans, its culture, and its history without prior restraint of a government-issued license."
Lead plaintiff Candance Kagan and her co-plaintiffs object to New Orleans City Code § 30-1553 "('No person shall conduct tours for hire in the parish who does not possess a tour guide license ...')", and City Code § 30-1486, which "defines a 'tour guide' as anyone who 'conduct[s] one or more persons to any of the city's points of interest and/or historic buildings, parks or sites, for the purpose of explaining, describing or generally relating the facts of importance thereto.'"
The women say the law is absurd: "The licensing requirement applies only if plaintiffs are speaking about points of interest or the historical significance of various city sites. Plaintiffs could silently lead a group of customers around the city, on foot, without needing any kind of license at all."
The federal complaint continues: "New Orleans requires anyone wishing to obtain a tour guide license, and thereby work as a tour guide in the city, to take a written examination. Specifically, New Orleans City Code § 30-1553 requires a written examination of 'the applicant's knowledge of the historical, cultural and sociological developments and points of interest of the city.' One cannot work as a tour guide in New Orleans without answering at least 70 percent of the questions on the test correctly. The city retains discretion that applicants also pass a verbal examination. ...
"In addition to passing the written examination, the city's 'application for a Tour Guide Permit' requires anyone wishing to obtain a tour guide license in New Orleans to undergo a criminal background check, which includes being fingerprinted; take a drug test in the form of a urine test; and disclose their social security number and driver's license number."
The plaintiffs give tours of the French Quarter, Garden District, cemeteries and other points of interest.
"Plaintiff Candance Kagan primarily gives historical tours of New Orleans on behalf of the nonprofit Friends of the Cabildo, which promotes the historical preservation of New Orleans landmarks. Candance volunteers to give these tours and is not compensated for them. Participants pay to attend these tours, but the proceeds go to the individual charity, rather than to Candance personally. She also volunteers to give tours on behalf of Save our Cemeteries, which promotes the preservation of historic cemeteries in New Orleans. Candance is compensated for giving cocktail tours, culinary tours, and certain cemetery tours."
Kagan says her tour guide license has expired. "She tried to renew it, but her renewal was rejected when she refused to allow the city to keep her Social Security number on file."
The women say that New Orleans' attempt to "restrict the discussion of information about the city's places and points of interest is causing and will continue to cause ongoing and irreparable harm to plaintiffs."
They add: "On information and belief, defendant possesses no evidence that the licensing requirements cited above actually advance any important government interest."
They seek declaratory judgment that the licensing requirement violates the First Amendment, plus nominal damages of $1, and attorney's fees.
They are represented by Mark Hanna with Bradley Murchison Kelly & Shea.
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