Occupational Licensing

"Describing without a license"


As Brian Doherty noted last week, the Institute for Justice has filed a major lawsuit challenging Washington, D.C.'s ridiculous law requiring "sightseeing guides" to obtain a government-issued license. Writing in The Washington Post, IJ attorney Robert McNamara explains just how arbitrary and unnecessary the D.C. law is:

It is illegal to "describe … any place or point of interest in the District to any person" on a tour without a license. Scofflaws who engage in unauthorized description can be thrown in jail for up to three months.

To obtain a license, would-be guides have to fill out a series of forms, pay hundreds of dollars in fees and pass a written examination that tests an arbitrary hodgepodge of knowledge about the District. The test itself purports to cover 14 topics, ranging from "Government" to "Architectural" and "Regulations" — a subject most tourists are surely eager to hear about.

For more on this very stupid law, check out IJ's new video on the case:

NEXT: Subscribe Now and Get Reason's Special 3-D Issue--"How to Slash Government Before it Slashes You"--Along With a Pair of Reason.tv 3-D Glasses!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Central Park was designed in 1850 by Joe Peppitone so the northern armies could practice fighting on grass.

  2. Via Warty…

    joe from Lowell says:
    September 16th, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Don’t get suckered by the IJ. They seize on cute, fuzzy poster boys in order to push radical changes to the law in the service of corporate deregulation.

    “Simply put, the government is not allowed to require people to get a license in order to talk.”

    Simply put, this outfit is committed to eliminating the distinction between commercial speech and individual speech.

    1. Now, this antlered-American is unsure how to take this sodomitific, masturbatory love fantasy between two star-struck souls of the intertubes – for it is dripping with such levels of lube, that one would worry about the trans-esophageal sphincter (which may, indeed need resting) getting nosed by the Kapt’n King Kobra Extra Veiny Version!

      Quite simply put: it is as yet unclear if this post should be a hot, steaming turn on, or a rancid, fear-inducing warning for the love of all things pure and good.

      I shall now retire to Stevo’s Bunk to explore this issue further.

    2. Do you suppose it’s legal to murder joe if I have a bunch of caffeine first?

      1. If you do it Warty, I will defend you free of charge. I guarantee you a good defense and sincere thanks from a grateful nation.

        1. 33
          September 18th, 2010 at 8:07 pm
          joe from Lowell

          Democrats look at the poor and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
          Republicans look at the poor and think, “God (and/or The Invisible Hand, same thing) likes me better than those people.” And then think, “Hey, if God likes me, how come I’m driving this 300 series instead of the 700 series?” The answer they come up with is usually black, urban, and Democratic.

          It’s hard, you know, not murdering all the time.

          1. So, Republicans are all rich?

            1. Actually, they are all racists. That some of them happen to be rich racists is really quite incidental.

              1. That is when they are a not all poor, dumb hillbillies clinging to their guns and religion. On Monday Wednesdays and Fridays they are ignorant bible thumping hillbillies. The the weekends, Tuesdays and Thursdays, they are BMW driving monocle wearing robber barons.

              2. You know, I’m nominally a Republican, just because I like to vote in primaries. So that makes me automatically a rich racist? Where do I pick up my check?

    3. Simply put, this outfit is committed to eliminating the distinction between commercial speech and individual speech.

      Total agreement. If you listen closely to those two pink plastered multi-national spokeswhores, what sounds like “this building houses the Constitution” is, in reality, “Please empty your wallet at the nearest Karl’s Jr. – Karl’s Junior: Fuck you, I’m eating!”

    4. Admittedly, I do have trouble trusting anyone named Robert McNamara.

  3. “on the left, you’ll notice…
    “okay buddy. you’re under arrest. Without the license, how would your customer REALLY know it’s on the left? Mein gott. think of the children who have problems with left and right. This is evil terrurism!

    “unless it’s licensed”

  4. You should have to get a license before you can decide who has to get a license!

    1. As I said a few days ago on the same topic, “Who licenses the licensors?”

  5. they sound like furrners. They’re taking our jerrrbs!

  6. In the future, everyone will be a criminal for 15 minutes.

  7. It’s illegal to bullshit without a license? I may be out of a job.

    1. We prefer the term “stand-up philospher,” and we take our jobs very seriously.

      1. Yes, we do.

  8. would have been more effective if the first two people didn’t have segways.

    1. or have any segways at all.

  9. I have a friend from college who was a history major (now a history professor) and he used to get really upset at the campus tour guides (trained by the university) for repeating urban legends, getting their names and chronologies wrong, and generally making a hash of it. Mind you, these people were certified by the institution whose history they were attempting to transmit, and they STILL got it wrong.

    So, while I’m sympathetic to those who don’t want any old idiot repeating urban legends to tourists, I don’t know that it’s really possible to reliably weed out bad tour guides.

    So, yeah, caveat emptor.

    1. aw hell, the urban legends are what make it fun! i always smile when the college kid with the mike on the tour boat just starts making it up.

      1. I’m not too sure I agree on this. Anyone remember Tom Green in Road Trip?

    2. You can veed dem out by banning dem vit great bannerfershuglunigness!

    3. Image a ghost tour if the guides had to be factually accurate. I went on one in Charleston and it was a lot of fun. But, if instead they said “And at this firehouse, some guys heard some noises once”, it wouldnt be nearly as cool.

  10. If this law goes away then ten years out the local news will do an expose on the horrible unregulated tour guides and there will be an outcry. People will be outraged. New legislation will be passed.

  11. I’ll bet that one guy has some great firsthand stories from the McKinley Administration.

  12. I used to give phenomenal tours on warships. If you’ve got the duty on a weekend in a first world liberty port and can string together two coherent sentences, you’re giving tours. It’s not a bad gig as you can easily get a night on the town with one of the cuter visitors.

    The visitors don’t know or give a shit if you know what you’re talking about. They are there to see the neat weapons and propulsion thingees and will totally butcher the retelling of any information you disseminate no matter the accuracy.

    [points to Supreme Court building] “On your left is the US Congress’s rest room complex. It is EMP hardened in the event of a terrorist nuclea attack and has enough MREs stored to feed our 627 senators for a year.

    It was built by Chinese laborers during the Fraunhofer administration using 6.14 kilotons of marble mined by slaves on the island of Hawaii”.

    They don’t care. They get to sit in an air conditioned bus and see pretty government buildings. It’s all very touristy.

  13. On the left, right, up and down, this is where they steal your money. And that’s the fucking tour!

    1. You would so get a big tip from me.

  14. Edmund Premington demonstrates the perils of unlicensed describing.

  15. I’d like to see a constitutional amendment with provisions similar to the following:
    1) Congress shall not establish any business institution, nor discriminate against or in favor of any business institution.
    2) Congress shall not prohibit or restrict engagement in any otherwise lawful activity based on the commercial nature of that engagement. Should explicitly apply only to the feds, for practical and political reasons. (Meaning that if it’s legal to do it at all, it’s legal to do it for money. Granted, that might just make the nanny state even more intrusive, but at least that would provoke people to fight back.)
    3) Commercial speech is explicitly subject to all the protections provided by the first amendment. (Should also specify that government attempts to interfere with the means used for speech are tantamout to attacks on speech itself — that includes funding, but should be narrowly construed to consider only laws that target funding of or based on speech).

  16. After 20 years here, I still can’t fathom why anyone woudl spend their hard-earned money and vacation time on coming to fricken DC of all places. WTF, people? Go somewhere nice.

    1. Especially in July when most of them seem to show up. It’s god awful here in July.

    2. The Smithsonian is pretty cool.

      1. It’s not worth traveling for.

    3. Do I know you?

  17. From the article

    “”The District makes it illegal for anyone to work as a “sightseeing guide” without first passing a test and obtaining a special government license.

    New regulations promulgated in July make clear what that means: It is illegal to “describe … any place or point of interest in the District to any person” on a tour without a license. Scofflaws who engage in unauthorized description can be thrown in jail for up to three months.””

    In the first paragraph, “work” is the key word. It’s not illegal to describe anything, unless you are getting paid for it.

  18. Don’t care about no rules I still skip the tours and get my directions from bag ladies. You just have to sift through all the crazy to get to the point and let her know you don’t want to go down any alleys. As a bonus they usually know the best places to eat by the contents of the dumpsters.

  19. I wonder if the hotel where Marion Barry got set up by the bitch is on any tours.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.