Local tour guides file lawsuit against city of New Orleans

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wwltv.com

Posted on December 12, 2011 at 11:14 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 13 at 4:02 PM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- Four local tour guides are filing a lawsuit against the city of New Orleans.

The group says the city's permitting requirements violate their First Amendment rights.

Even after dark, you can spot tour guides navigating curious tourists through the streets of the historic French Quarter.

"What this is, is a journey into our deeper darker history," said a Haunted History tour-guide who identified herself as Jennifer addressing about two-dozen tourists on Monday night.

"I have a love for the City. I became a tour guide so I could share this love and this information that I have on the city of New Orleans with those that come to visit," said Canday Kagan, a local tour guide for almost two years now.

However, the New Orleans native says her hobby is being threatened by the City's tough tour-guide licensing requirements.

"They've been around for years and no one has enforced them," said Kagan.

Right now, tour guides must take a $10 history exam, $20 drug test, $50 FBI criminal background check, and submit proof of citizenship along with Social Security details in order to renew or get a new permit with the city, which must be renewed every two years.

The city of New Orleans says anyone operating as an unlicensed tour guide faces up to a $500 fine and/or five months in jail.

"We went through a police check once a year, no fingerprinting, no drug tests," said tour guide Jocelyn Cole.

Kagan, Cole and two other guides are now suing the city of New Orleans.

"We are filing a federal lawsuit against the city asking a federal court to declare New Orleans tour guide licensing law unconstitutional," said Matt Miller with the Institute for Justice.

Miller said the city's current licensing rules violate his clients' first amendment rights.

"The city would never put such a law in place for journalists or authors or for someone whose giving a speech at the Convention Center, and yet they put those same requirements in place for tour guides just because they're walking around telling tourists about New Orleans," said Miller.

City of New Orleans spokesman Ryan Berni said the city can't comment on a lawsuit that hasn't been filed. However, Berni did issue this statement on behalf of the city:

"Tour guides in New Orleans are required, by law, to have a city issued permit. We believe that licensed tour guides, who are important ambassadors for New Orleans, provide a consistent standard of information being presented to the visitors and citizens of our great city. The public can be reassured that the individuals providing these services have met the knowledge, background check, drug-screening standards."

The lawsuit against the city of New Orleans will officially be filed in federal court Tuesday. Miller said the four plaintiffs in this case are suing the city for $1 in damages because their main goal is to overturn current tour guide permitting regulations.

 

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