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Free speech on the Strip

Some good news on the free speech front: Clark County government now has a hands-off approach on protests, demonstrations and political expression.

Not only has the county stopped requiring a parade permit for such First Amendment activities — even if they result in blocked sidewalks and slowed traffic — but the county also won’t deploy resources such as barricades or warning signage, spokesman Erik Pappa said last week.

The issue came up when the Culinary Local 226 started demonstrating in front of the Cosmopolitan this year to protest a lack of progress on contract negotiations with the Strip resort. Pappa said county officials decided they didn’t want to appear to endorse the demonstrations. The county’s new, unwritten policy: If you’re planning a protest, place a courtesy call to Metro.

Las Vegas police public information officer Larry Hadfield said the department doesn’t charge when officers are needed to monitor political demonstrations or gatherings. Hadfield said the decision on whether to bill for police protection is based on “profit or nonprofit”: If an event benefits or promotes a business, the event has to pay for police presence, but if the event involves a nonprofit entity, there’s no charge.

That’s a problematic judgment call. A promotion for a for-profit concert — think Shania Twain riding a horse down the Strip — has to get a permit and pay police for traffic control, but would a similar stunt for a charity concert put on by Andre Agassi or Tiger Woods have to do the same?

Would the Culinary profit from a Cosmopolitan contract? Of course, in both treasure and political power. But its demonstrations unquestionably are protected by the First Amendment, and it’s good to see the county back off a bit on free speech, especially after losing so many court battles related to constitutional expression.

The next step is for the County Commission to clean up the parade permit ordinance to ensure there’s no possibility of unequal enforcement. Then other jurisdictions should follow suit and make it easier for residents to engage in both political and commercial speech. Did you know the city of Henderson has a 14-page application for a parade/public assembly permit? U.S. Supreme Court precedent gives governments the latitude to impose time, place and manner restrictions on expression in some circumstances, but that’s ridiculous.

Free speech isn’t free if you need a permit.

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Speaking of the Culinary, did you notice last month that local members voted to withhold more money from their checks to boost strike funds? About 9,000 workers voted overwhelmingly to add $25 to their monthly dues, according to the Culinary Local 226 website.

It’s interesting that a union with about 60,000 workers moves heaven and earth to get members to the polls to vote for Democrats in federal and state elections, but makes sure the turnout machine is in the shop when the bosses want more money in the bank. Only 15 percent of Culinary workers bothered to vote when their paychecks were a stake? Really?

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Speaking of elections, Democrats love to argue that it’s too much to ask anyone to furnish identification at the polls. After all, they claim, merely obtaining government-issued photo ID is too burdensome for lower-income residents.

Yet at this year’s Legislature, Democrats (joined by Republicans) championed driver privilege cards for illegal immigrants, saying they were absolutely necessary for tens of thousands of Southern Nevadans, and that the immigrant community was eager to line up and get them.

So it’s not a problem for tens of thousands of “undocumented” lower-income residents to get a de facto driver’s license, but it’s too burdensome to ask citizens to carry the same kind of identification when they vote?

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall,” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.

Political columnist Steve Sebelius returns Tuesday.

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