The owners of a Segway tour guide company have just filed a federal lawsuit against the District of Columbia, alleging that the District’s law requiring tour guides to be licensed violates their First Amendment rights.
Tonia Edwards and Bill Main, who both live in Baltimore, own and operate Segs in the City, which conducts tours in Washington while sightseers ride Segway self-balancing vehicles.
In their complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this morning, Edwards and Main argue that the city’s licensing laws for tour guides are unduly burdensome and constitute a prior restraint on their right to speak freely. The complaint says that under new regulations issued by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in July, tour guides face a fine of up to $300 and up to 90 days in jail if they give tours of D.C.’s landmarks without the proper credentials.
Calls to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs were not immediately returned.
The complaint asks that an injunction be issued to that would prohibit the District from enforcing the law. Edwards and Main also seek to recover attorneys fees. They are being represented by Robert Gall, Robert McNamara, and William Mellor of the Institute for Justice.
“These requirements are burdens on our clients solely because of the content of their speech,” McNamara said. “If they wanted to drive people around and talk about the Yankees, they would be allowed to do so without a license. But if they want to describe the builds they were passing, they’s have to jump through all kinds of hoops. There isn’t a more clear example of a situation where free-speech rights are being violated.”
McNamara said that the fees for obtaining a license come to roughly $200 for each tour guide. Because Segs in the City hires about 15 additional tour guides during the summer months, McNamara said, they could have to pay about $3,000 each summer to ensure all of their employees are complying with the law. Besides, he added, Segs in the City already requires “rigorous” training for their employees because the company is “very concerned with the quality of its tours.”
McNamara said the 100-question test required to obtain a license is the same one given to all tour guides, “whether they are doing ghost tours or other sightseeing tours where the test would be irrelevant.”
He said, “Taking the time to study and prepare for that test could be much better spent studying for a test that would actually test on the information they would be using on the tours.”
The Institute for Justice planned to announce the suit in a press conference this morning.