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August 4, 2015

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Mayor opposed to escort service handbillers on Fremont Street

However, Goodman says new ordinance would allow such solicitors in pedestrian mall area

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Leila Navidi

A handbiller passes out cards in May 2010 for an escort service on The Strip just north of Flamingo Road, outside the Flamingo.

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A handbiller passes out cards in May 2010 for an escort service on The Strip just north of Flamingo Road, outside the Flamingo. Launch slideshow »
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The 1,500-foot-long canopy over downtown's Fremont Street Experience is shown in downtown Las Vegas in this file photo.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman admits he probably won't get his way because of First Amendment issues.

But he still doesn't like the idea of solicitors handing out glossy cards with near-naked women advertising escort services in the pedestrian mall of downtown's Fremont Street Experience, a practice that's common along parts of the Strip.

"It concerns me greatly, because, I'll tell you, if somebody wanted to hand one of those things to me when I'm with my wife or my daughter, I've got a concealed weapons permit and I can use it," Goodman told reporters at his weekly news conference at City Hall.

Goodman said he had made his viewpoints known to staff members about the escort service cards when they were discussing an ordinance as to what would be or would not be allowed under the domed Fremont Street Experience, the biggest tourist attraction in the city's downtown.

The city council is expected to take up the ordinance sometime this month or next month. The American Civil Liberties Union's Allen Lichtenstein has looked over the ordinance and said it was workable.

Last summer, the council decided not to take up a proposed ordinance that would create "free expression" zones within the mall. It also specifically prohibited certain activities at the Fremont Street Experience, such as using megaphones, throwing objects into the air and using Hula-Hoops.

The latest rendition of the ordinance would deal more with pedestrian traffic and safety, and stay away from banning activities, such as certain types of street performers, whose performances are considered a form of free speech.

For example, solicitors who flap their escort service cards would have to stay 10 feet from the perimeter of any outdoor setting and 20 feet from fire lanes and crosswalks.

However, Goodman said he wished the new ordinance could ban them.

"I think it's very, very bad that we can't control that," he said. "But free speech, I guess, is more important than protecting people from having something shoved in their face."

Goodman said the city's attorney has said they can't even hold the pamphleteer responsible if litter is created as a result of the cards.

"We can hold the person who receives the material, if they throw it down, but we're not going to do that, of course," Goodman said. "But I hope it doesn't happen."

Goodman, who describes himself as a civil libertarian, said he also believes there has to be a balance that is very important to the economic success of the downtown.

He said if those handing out cards disturb the public activities along Fremont, the city might have to go to court again to address such issues. The city has tried to limit activities in the past, but such ordinances have been thrown out by the courts.

Goodman said U.S. District Judge David Ezra, of Hawaii, who sat on the case where the city's ordinance was challenged the last time, wouldn't allow certain restrictions on Fremont Street.

"However, in a decision that he was involved in in Hawaii, he protected Wakiki Beach from the same kind of conduct that we've tried to stop here, saying that was not a public forum," Goodman said. "So I don't understand the difference other than we're Las Vegas. But I don't want to pick a beef with a federal judge — not yet."

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