D.C.'s problem with 'describing without a license'
By Robert McNamara
The streets of Washington are being stalked by criminals. In broad daylight, these dangerous scoundrels roam the city streets, flouting the laws that keep us safe. Their heinous crime? They describe things.
The District makes it illegal for anyone to work as a “sightseeing guide” without first passing a test and obtaining a special government license.
New regulations promulgated in July make clear what that means: It is illegal to “describe ... any place or point of interest in the District to any person” on a tour without a license. Scofflaws who engage in unauthorized description can be thrown in jail for up to three months.
To obtain a license, would-be guides have to fill out a series of forms, pay hundreds of dollars in fees and pass a written examination that tests an arbitrary hodgepodge of knowledge about the District. The test itself purports to cover 14 topics, ranging from “Government” to “Architectural” and “Regulations” — a subject most tourists are surely eager to hear about.
Visitors to the District can choose from an amazing array of tours, ranging from ghost tours to food tours to television-and-movie tours. Lumping this variety into a single 100-question multiple-choice test can do nothing to make any individual visitor’s experience better. Instead, the testing requirement does what too many local and state licensing laws do: make it more difficult to start a business or change jobs into a new field.
In the past 50 years, there has been an explosion of laws that require people to get a license before they join the workforce. In the 1950s, only about one out of every 20 Americans needed a license to pursue the occupation of their choice. Today, that number is one out of every three.
These licensing requirements are not mere annoyances: They have real consequences. Take Tonia Edwards and Bill Main, who run Segs in the City, which offers Segway-based tours of D.C.’s monuments and embassies. As they lead groups of Segway-riding tourists through the city, they describe the sights and stories of our nation’s capital, all while teaching their customers to ride a Segway — in most cases, for the first time. No license is required for the Segway, but because Edwards and Main haven’t gone through the costly motions required to get the city’s permission, telling stories turns the pair into criminals.
The government has no business deciding who can or cannot be a storyteller. That is why Edwards and Main joined with the Institute for Justice to file a federal lawsuit against the city last week, seeking to vindicate their First Amendment right to communicate for a living — the same right enjoyed by stand-up comedians, journalists and actors.
Particularly with an economy in recovery, and literally millions of people seeking to move to new jobs, we cannot have government enforcing laws that accomplish nothing but make it harder to work. The explosion of licensing requirements has taken us well beyond the point of even plausibly protecting the public, and it is past time for the D.C. government to realize that residents and visitors are hardy enough to survive a little unauthorized description.
Robert McNamara is a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice.
Posted by: HokieAnnie | September 19, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: interactingdc | September 19, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: kinkysr | September 19, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: HokieAnnie | September 19, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: yenta1 | September 19, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tropic_bloom100 | September 19, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: jckdoors | September 20, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: lowonprozac | September 20, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: danny7 | September 20, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: lowonprozac | September 20, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: lehmanbrian | September 20, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: nan1 | September 20, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: nan1 | September 20, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: yenta1 | September 24, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.