Sometimes, fights over free expression involve classified documents, basic rights of assembly or topics such as school prayer that arouse great passion.
But sometimes the issues are harps, Hula-Hoops and talking parrots.
Those were some of the points discussed Tuesday as Las Vegas officials pondered an ordinance that finally might end the years of litigation over what can and can’t be done under the Fremont Street Experience’s giant video screen.
"All the attorneys agree. That’s a good day," Councilman Stavros Anthony said. "It’s good to get to a point where everyone’s comfortable with this."
He and Councilman Ricki Barlow voted to send the ordinance to the full City Council, which could consider it as soon as Feb. 2.
The new rules would require street performers and solicitors — such as people handing out fliers for a business or someone asking for spare change — to remain certain distances away from doors, ATMs, retail kiosks, crosswalks and outdoor cafes.
And the proposal would set up rules for "coercive" solicitation and make clear that any such activity cannot impede pedestrian traffic on the downtown mall.
Performers would be allowed to accept tips but could not charge people a required fee for their acts.
"This is obviously a balancing act," said Allen Lichtenstein of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which worked with the city and Fremont Street Experience LLC on the ordinance. It is "better than what we have at the Fremont Street Experience, which is the lack of any time, place or manner restrictions."
That is the phrase used to describe rules that put limits on free speech rights in a permissible way because they are not concerned with the content of someone’s expression.
As with any regulation, the devil’s in the details, and Barlow delved into some of them.
"If someone were to bring in a harp and a chair … would that be allowable?" he asked, and not out of the blue: The ordinance would limit a street performer to occupying a 2-foot circle at the mall, and something like a harp would be bigger.
Still, that probably would be allowed, said Brad Jerbic, attorney for the city, because a harp is integral to a harp player’s expression. The performer still would have to meet the distance separation rules and not block traffic.
Then there’s the issue of animals.
"I have a dog that does backward flips, and I want to use that for my entertainment," Barlow said as an example. "I have a talking parrot."
Any animal besides a service animal needs approval from the Fremont Street Experience’s management company to be there, Jerbic said, so there probably will not be animal acts downtown.
The ordinance bans Hula- Hoops larger than 4 feet across, with skating, skateboarding and shopping carts. At one point, an enterprising person was renting Hula-Hoops, including a large one, to visitors, and the city contends it interfered with pedestrians.
If the proposal is approved by the council, performers and solicitors will have to stay 20 feet away from doors, ATMs, fire lanes and crosswalks and 10 feet away from retail kiosks and outdoor cafes.
"The only thing is, you’re going to have to buy everyone a tape measure," Anthony said.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-229-6435.