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County targets Strip pests one animal, panhandler at a time

Don’t expect the Clark County Commission to unveil solutions to nuisances on the Strip with a rah rah sis boom bah.

About 10 ordinances will come out in dribs and drabs.

The first one passed in March was a soft opening.

Commissioners set a curfew for animals used for begging on the Strip. Cheddar the cat, who can earn as much as $200 a day, is now banned from panhandling the Strip from noon to 5 a.m. That was more an anti-animal cruelty ordinance than an anti-panhandling ordinance, because animal lovers didn’t like seeing animals baking in the sun.

The second drib – or is it a drab? – will be discussed Tuesday. This ordinance would give the county new language making it a misdemeanor to engage in a commercial activity in the public right of way.

It would be a crime “for any person to sell, peddle, offer, to sell or solicit for sale by offering or displaying any merchandise, goods, items, wares or services on any improved or unimproved portion of a public right of way, including private property upon which a limited easement of public access had been granted, in the unincorporated area of Clark County except that which is otherwise expressly permitted by this code or state statute.”

Translation: Let’s ban peddlers on the Strip.

It does nothing to fix the No. 1 problem – handbillers. No matter how seedy or cheesy, they have a legal right to pass out materials under the First Amendment, and the county must refrain from harassing them or profiling them, said County Manager Don Burnette.

It also does nothing to restrict folks who dress up in goofy costumes and pose for photos. The First Amendment protects them, too. The ACLU’s Allen Lichtenstein doesn’t plan to object to Tuesday’s ordinance, saying most peddlers selling water and T-shirts don’t have business licenses anyway, so they’re already illegal. He has worked with the district attorney’s office to write language that will withstand legal scrutiny.

Another county proposal being drafted would require handbillers to clean up the area in a 50-foot range around them every 15 minutes. On its face, that didn’t sound legal, since handbillers aren’t dropping the fliers, tourists are. But the county thinks language saying handbillers are “contributing to litter” will be legal. We’ll see.

The most contentious ordinance in the works, according to Burnette, who headed the Resort Corridor Workgroup which developed 32 proposals, will be one saying creating congestion is a public safety concern. That one is aimed directly at handbillers.

If tourists step into the streets to avoid handbillers in high traffic areas, that could be a threat to public safety. The county is waiting for the results of its $581,000 study of congestion on the Strip before coming up with language for that ordinance.

Dancing waters, volcanoes and pirate battles create the biggest congestion. How do you write an ordinance that protects public safety and limits congestion yet protects attractions?

Readers suggest a holistic approach to deal with handbillers. They want immigration officials checking their legal status. They want the Internal Revenue Service checking whether handbillers and their bosses pay their taxes. They want undercover stings to prove handbillers are promoting illegal prostitution.

But those are federal and police issues, not the county’s domain.

Is this effort to clean up the Strip a waste of time?

Clearly the county commissioners don’t think so.

Even Lichtenstein said there are minor changes that are legal and will be helpful, if they’re done properly. In his opinion, meetings that police have held with handbillers to work out ways of dealing with littering have had some success.

Problems arise when the county attempts sweeping changes.

Maybe that’s why the county started by protecting critters and banning peddlers before taking handbillers head-on.

The county is trying to solve problems a scooch at a time, and in about a year or so, we’ll see if it works.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison.

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