Strip litter: Another effort to regulate smut peddlers

Tourists have been complaining for decades about the people employed to pass out pornographic – semi-nude, if you like – fliers to pedestrians along the busiest sections of the Strip.

The glossy cards advertise the availability of outcall dancers, young women willing to visit guests in their hotel rooms. The business is widely regarded as a thin cover for prostitution, which remains illegal in Clark County.

Many tourists who have such advertising matter thrust into their hands have no idea what it is. Once they look at it, many – all the more understandably, if they’re walking with children – drop the material to the ground.

The Clark County Commission has tried may times to respond to ongoing complaints by restricting the distribution of such handbills – as well as distribution of handouts by those with religious and other commercial messages.

Such attempts are routinely tossed out by the courts on First Amendment grounds. In fact, elected officials who enact such measures, fully aware they’re likely to be thrown out, have been rightly criticized for wasting taxpayer money on court costs merely to score political points.

Last week, county commissioners tried again, introducing an anti-littering ordinance that would force the handbill distributors to clean up every 15 minutes the litter they themselves have generated within a 50-foot radius of where they’re standing.

The ordinance asserts that requiring the smut peddlers to pick up their areas when leaflets are discarded in their presence “does not significantly impact the distributor’s ability to exercise First Amendment freedoms and provides a needed service to the community.”

The proposal would make both handbill distributors and passers-by responsible for littering; the punishment could be a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Some of the smut peddlers have protested they should not be made responsible for picking up other people’s trash. Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, has said he believes the proposal is unenforceable because it’s “trying to penalize one person for somebody else’s actions.”

This time, it’s Mr. Lichtenstein who’s stretching. This is considerably different from trying to punish a fast-food merchant because a paying customer chooses to throw away a hamburger wrapper a block away.

If someone asks you to hold out your hand and then places a scorpion in that outstretched hand, leading you to immediately toss the venomous creature away, who’s responsible for where it lands? The person who knowingly and with forethought initiated that highly predictable series of events.

The ordinance may indeed prove difficult to enforce. But if this law makes no attempt to block the handbillers from making their wares available to those who want them, instead making it clear they risk proportionate punishment only for aggressive conduct which any reasonable person could foresee leading to unsightly litter, thereby imposing cleanup costs on taxpayers, then the commissioners may finally have isolated a wrongful act over which they have jurisdiction.

It’s worth a try.

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