Should Street Performers Have To Pay To Play?

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- Should St. Louis street performers have to pay to play, and only where the city says it`s okay to play?

Those are the questions at issue in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union against the City of St. Louis, challenging the constitutionality of its street performer ordinance.

The case itself has yet to be heard but on Friday morning lawyers for both sides appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Catherine D. Perry at a hearing to argue whether a preliminary injunction ordered in  May should be continued until a trial is held on the lawsuit.

That injunction ordered the city to immediately reduce its street performer  permit fee from $100 to $50.

The ACLU, on behalf of several local street performers, filed the lawsuit arguing the city`s ordinance requiring a permit to perform and specifying where and when they can perform is unconstitutional.

"You don`t need a license to picket, you should not have to have a license to play a guitar," said Tony Rothert, Legal Director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.

"It is just basic first amendment expressive activity and the city should stay out of it," Rothert said.

The city has been regulating street performers since 1997.

But last year it upped the permit fee from $25 to $100 dollars, insisting the increase is needed to cover the cost of inspectors checking for permits.

It was that increase which led the performers to contact the ACLU.

The ACLU and the city had been trying to avoid going to court by working together on creating a replacement ordinance, but the ACLU says it decided to go ahead with today`s hearing because the city was taking too long to get a new ordinance passed.

The city says aldermen would have likely introduced that new bill by today, but did not because the ACLU decided to proceed with the lawsuit.

Judge Perry is expected to rule within two weeks on whether to keep the fee reduction in place until a trial on the constitutionality of the ordinance is finally held.

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