A spokesman for the Burning Man festival says Friday’s federal court ruling is a major victory leaving the festival’s First Amendment and contract violation claims intact.
Pershing County had petitioned to dismiss the entire case, forcing Burning Man to pay its newly enacted fees.
Event spokesman Ray Allen said the county originally agreed not to pass an ordinance imposing fees if they paid the county for all its costs incurred in managing the festival.
“They breached all agreements then decided to charge us more money under the ordinance,” he said.
He said the county increased what it wants to charge Black Rock City from $180,000 in 2011 to more than $600,000 this year.
Allen said those charges not only breach the contract the festival had with the county but would interfere with First Amendment rights by charging so much they would have to shut down the festival.
“We think this ruling on Friday was a huge victory for us,” he said.
The portion of the case District Judge Robert Jones threw out was the claim that Pershing County should be prohibited from any control over Burning Man under the Supremacy Clause because it is permitted and regulated by the federal Bureau of Land Management and held on federal, not state land.
Jones ruled there is no violation of the federal government Supremacy Clause as long as the event can comply with both the BLM rules and local laws.
Trial is currently set in the case for Sept. 24 but Allen said they are hoping to get that date pushed back. He said the judge’s ruling also opens the door to amend the complaint, adding new claims. He said no decision has been made on that whether more claims will be added to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the Nevada legislature is considering a bill that would effectively block county control of events such as Burning Man.
The measure authored by Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, exempts federal land from county event statutes who said it isn’t appropriate for a county to be “enacting an ordinance and simply handing organizers a bill.”
It has already passed the Assembly and is scheduled for a hearing in Senate Government Affairs next week.
“Essentially, special interests have high jacked the legislative process once again,” said Pershing County DA Jim Shriley an in email to the Nevada Appeal. “Mr. Bobzien, the bill’s sponsor, had ample opportunity to meet and confer with county officials. He took no effort to do so. Pershing County invited him to sit and discuss things. Instead, he went to only one source for all his information, Burning Man. He is a state officer, as such, he should consider all the state when he is proposing bills and consider the costs of such proposals on others. This is just bad legislative practice.”
Burning Man, held annually on the Black Rock Desert, now draws nearly 60,000 participants. According to organizers, it generates an economic impact of $30 million or more. Allen said $11 million of that total comes from the Reno-Tahoe Airport alone. The other $19 million plus is in business to local merchants in western Nevada.
Article Topics: Legislature: PERSLegislature: PERS