Bill would protect rights to protest on sidewalks | NevadaAppeal.com

Bill would protect rights to protest on sidewalks

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Nevada Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, testifies before the Senate Government Affairs Committee Wednesday at the Legislature. Care presented a proposal that would restrict the laws local governments can enact regulating signs carried on sidewalks.
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Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, on Wednesday told the Senate Government Affairs Committee his bill protecting the rights of those who protest on public sidewalks was prompted by the recent arrest of two preachers by Clark County authorities.

SB13 would prohibit local governments from enacting laws that discriminate against people taking their causes to the public streets. It specifically prohibits any ordinances from discriminating against people for exercising their freedom-of-speech rights on public sidewalks.

Care said the street ministers weren’t obstructing foot traffic and shouldn’t have been arrested.

But the city of Las Vegas and the lobbying group representing major strip casinos objected, saying the proposed language would go too far, allowing pornography and other inappropriate displays on the public streets. William Henry, of the Las Vegas City Attorney’s office, said it would also make it impossible for local governments to ban certain things to protect children.

“This bill would allow all of that content to be put on a signboard,” he said.

Morgan Baumgartner, representing the Nevada Resort Association, said casinos often own those sidewalks but grant the city and county an easement allowing public use. She said Care’s proposed law could unlawfully expand those easements.

But Allen Lichtenstein, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said there is ample case law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep such things as pornography or inciting violence off of such sign boards. The ACLU has had to fight Las Vegas and other governments over the issue of limiting political, labor and other activities on public sidewalks for years, Lichtenstein said.

Existing Nevada law on the books should be changed because it is blatantly unconstitutional, he said. The law he referred to is NRS266.275, which, Lichtenstein said, gives counties and municipalities “carte blanche” authority to regulate signs on public streets and sidewalks.

He said any statute limiting freedom of expression that is content based “is presumptively unconstitutional.”

He was joined by Janine Hanson, of Nevada Eagle Forum, who said she has had to go to court in Reno to protect her rights to freedom of expression and several other activists who said the law would give them important protections.

Government Affairs Chairman Warren Hardy, R-Clark County, promised the committee would deal with the issues raised this session.

“This certainly is a difficult issue, but I don’t think it’s one we can ignore,” he said.

Hardy said the bill would be referred to a subcommittee for further hearings.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.