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Postponing decision, county finds possible new argument to restrict Strip handbillers

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Steve Marcus / FILE

A man checks out a newsrack on the Strip near Spring Mountain Road containing magazines advertising female entertainers who will travel to homes and hotel rooms.

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 | 4:47 p.m.

Clark County lawyers and Strip casino operators may have inadvertently been given a remedy to an issue that has vexed them for years: What to do about handbillers, many of whom hand out girlie/adult pamphlets, to tourists on the Strip.

Last month, the County Commission approved a new littering ordinance requiring handbillers to clean the sidewalk within a 25-foot diameter because so many tourists grab the handbills then drop them on the ground.

At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners were discussing a plan to create one model of newsrack all vendors would be required to use. The idea grew out a committee established in 2011 to look at ways to clean up the Strip, which falls under the legal purview of county commissioners.

Attorney Jeff Silver, representing newsrack companies, said two forms of publication distribution take place on the Strip — via newsracks and by people who pass out “girls-to-your-room” pamphlets.

Silver said it was unfair that newsracks were bolted and confined to specific areas next to the curb while so-called card slappers “are nothing more than mobile newsracks standing in front of persons traversing the sidewalk.”

“If the newsracks are on the sidewalk parallel to the curb, then the pamphleteers should be in the same general area and not in the middle of the sidewalk with their hands out blocking tourists,” Silver said. “It’s a safety issue and an issue of equal protection.”

He also uttered the key words, “time, place and manner,” which are categories of restrictions that government is allowed to place on content-neutral speech protected by the First Amendment. For instance, if the free speech causes potential safety problems, government is allowed to restrict the time, place and manner of that speech.

Silver also said the handbillers were impacting the business of those who owned newsracks because they blocked them and used newsracks as mini-storage areas for stacks of handbills.

Silver’s request to have the county consider newsracks and pamphleteers as the same, county observers said, appeared to open the door to place more restrictions on pamphleteers.

Agreeing with Silver, Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who established the Strip cleanup committee, said “our intention is that everyone be afforded the same protection.”

County Manager Don Burnette, who was part of the committee, said, “There’s a good reason to step back and look at what’s suggested and consider time, place and manner restrictions that treat newsracks and handbillers the same.”

Another reason to step back, said Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, is the fact that a Strip pedestrian study will be finished in a few weeks. That study will show where, if any, bottlenecks appear on the Strip, giving the county a better idea of how newsracks or pamphleteers are blocking pedestrian traffic.

“The Americans with Disablities Act is an issue, too — that we’re not further restricting people in a wheelchair or some kind of disability to get through,” Giunchigliani said.

The commission voted unanimously to postpone the matter for 60 days while county staff gathered more information.

Commissioners also asked staff for information on who was getting newsrack permits after one man said those permitted were subcontracting their spaces for thousands of dollars to publications not originally permitted.

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