Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A judge could do away with licensing rules for Charleston tour guides later this year

The rules were relaxed shortly after the city was sued in 2016

Posted by Adam Manno on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 11:56 AM

  • Flickr user Torrey Wiley
As of now, Charleston's tour guides must get a business license, pay $50 for two chances at a 200-question test, and score at least a 70 percent to be legally allowed to talk about the Holy City for hire.

That could change if a group of aspiring tour guides who failed the city's previous testing requirements get their way.

With the help of the libertarian Institute for Justice, Kimberly Billups, Michael Warfield, and Michael Nolan filed a lawsuit against the City of Charleston in January 2016 arguing that the city's rules infringe on guides' First Amendment rights and that the questions on the tests, which are based on a 492-page guide by the Historic Charleston Foundation, are sometimes irrelevant for an industry offering tours on topics as varied as ghosts and local pubs.
The city defines tour guides as “any person who acts or offers to act as a guide for hire through any part of” certain regulated districts of the city, according to court documents.

City Council amended the requirements for tour guide licensing three months after the lawsuit was filed. It dropped the requirement for an oral exam and lowered the passing score on the written exam from 80 percent to 70 percent.

U.S. District Judge David Norton heard four days of arguments from April 9 to 12. He told attorneys he expects to make a decision by August, according The Post & Courier.

"The evidence presented during the trial shows that the tour guide licensing exam focuses on Charleston’s history and historic attractions because paying customers are most likely to seek guides on these topics," said defense attorney Carol Ervin. "The city is confident that its licensing process for tour guides does not violate the First Amendment."

Facing a similar legal challenge, Savannah, Ga. eliminated their tour guide test and licensing fee requirements in 2015. Tour companies are now only required to obtain a business tax certificate and register their tour guides with the city.

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