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Las Vegas will prosecute businesses that stay open as public nuisances

Updated March 23, 2020 - 2:22 pm

The city of Las Vegas will prosecute as public nuisances any nonessential business that does not close, the city said Monday, a reversal that followed talks between a city and state official the day after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered such businesses to shut down until April 16.

In deciding to hold violators accountable, the city said it also has plans to alleviate the hardships that all businesses subject to the order will face.

City Attorney Brad Jerbic said Friday the state’s largest city would not prosecute businesses that defy the governor’s mandate that went into effect Saturday because the order was unconstitutionally vague.

But city spokesman David Riggleman said Monday that after Jerbic and Attorney General Aaron Ford talked Saturday, and Jerbic performed his own legal research, Jerbic was “more comfortable” prosecuting violating businesses under the state’s public nuisance statute. The law bans actions that endanger the safety and health of “any considerable number of persons,” among other things.

Ford took to Twitter on Saturday to first reveal that talks had resulted in the city agreeing to enforce the order.

Now the city will either pursue a criminal or civil complaint against violators based on findings by the Metropolitan Police Department, which contracts with the city and began conducting compliance checks on businesses Saturday.

“The criminal option entails the filing of a misdemeanor,” Riggleman said in an email. “The civil option would consist of the city securing a temporary restraining order to close the business more quickly should its owners not comply with the Metro order.”

Misdemeanor crimes are punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Riggleman said the city did not have plans to hold an emergency meeting “at this time.” The Clark County Commission met Friday to enact an emergency ordinance detailing penalties for nonessential businesses that do not close.

Under the county ordinance, noncompliant businesses could have their licenses suspended or revoked, face up to a $1,000 fine per violation per day or be charged with a misdemeanor.

In issuing his order Friday, an escalating effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Sisolak said he would leave it up to local governments to determine the penalties.

As businesses deemed “nonessential” must stay closed until April 16, Riggleman outlined several steps the city plans to take to “ease the burdens” on them, including a 60-day grace period for business license renewals due March 1 or April 1 and reduced fees for liquor and gaming licenses during the closures.

The city will also provide options to close for general or privileged licenses without cost to reinstate them and continue to accept business-related applications throughout the period so they may open as quickly as possible once the order is lifted, according to Riggleman.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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