With chapel gone, marriage license troubles continue

The chief complaint against the Las Vegas Garden of Love wedding chapel, whose business license was revoked late last year, was the aggressive behavior of employees working the corner outside the Las Vegas Marriage Bureau.

There was verbal abuse and profanity reported, as well as a handful of alleged beatings.

With that chapel out of business, the wedding industry’s mantra was, “Now all problems will cease.”

Oops.

Aggressive pamphleteering is returning to the steps of the Regional Justice Center, according to the city’s licensing office, which has put chapel owners on notice that infractions over the Valentine’s Day period will be punished.

“What we’ve observed over the last few months is that the problem isn’t going away, and it’s maybe getting worse,” Jim Rickett, a supervisor in the city’s Business Services Division, said to a small group of chapel owners Thursday.

“Things are heating up again. Keep in mind that you can be held responsible for their behavior out there.”

The city also released draft legislation that would tighten licensing regulations on wedding chapels and require handbillers to stay at least 100 feet away from the entrance to the Las Vegas Marriage Bureau.

Parties that would be affected by the ordinance have until 5 p.m. Feb. 29 to comment on the proposal.

The city hasn’t issued many citations yet, Rickett said, but some complaints have been turned in by downtown chapels and noted by law enforcement staff at the courthouse.

The city sent inspectors out last weekend. When they pulled up, they “almost ran over a solicitor who was chasing a couple across the street,” he said.

Only a handful of chapels actually position employees — called “handbillers” — outside the marriage license office.

By law, they’re allowed to hand out information about their chapel, but they aren’t supposed to actively engage potential customers or steal clients from one another.

A chapel owner can solicit business directly.

The fact that the rules are routinely ignored led to one item in the proposed ordinance. Between 7 a.m. and midnight, all chapel representatives would have to be at least 100 feet away from the marriage bureau — basically, across the street.

The most controversial part of the new ordinance could be the proposal that wedding chapels get a “privileged” business license, the same kind that strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores must get.

There’s a high bar for those licenses. Applicants must go through, and pay for, a background check. Approval is up to the full Las Vegas City Council.

“It’s basically, ‘Where were you born and what have you done since? How much are you putting into this business and where is it coming from?’ ” Rickett said. “It’s a rather extensive and exhaustive investigation.”

The reasoning is that “we don’t want Las Vegas to get the reputation that, ‘If you go there to get married, look out.’ “

In its current form, the ordinance wouldn’t require existing chapels to get the privileged license, although they could be forced to do so at renewal time if problems had been reported with the chapel, said City Attorney Brad Jerbic. All new chapels would have to get the privileged license.

Not everyone’s thrilled about the licensing proposal.

“It’s overkill,” said Glen Davis, co-owner of the Vegas Adventure Wedding Chapel. “That’s a big deal, to get a privileged license. It’s a total nightmare.”

Chapels facing that process would locate in Clark County, not inside the Las Vegas city limits, Davis said. He also said chapels shouldn’t be put in the same basket as gaming or gentlemen’s clubs.

“We’re not in that category,” Davis said. “We don’t make as much money as those kinds of businesses. … We’re just a regular, normal business.”

Comments on the proposed ordinance can be faxed to 382-6642 or mailed to the Department of Business and Financial Services, 400 Stewart Ave.–Third Floor, Las Vegas, NV 89101.

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