Houston’s anti-busking law has been struck down in federal court.
An obscure, decades-old ordinance that restricted where buskers — musicians who performs in public places — can play for tips in Houston has been deemed unconstitutional and struck down by a federal judge.
The decision this week by U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett strikes down the burdensome permitting process that confined musicians vying for cash gratuity to the Theater District. While performers could play elsewhere, soliciting tips while doing so made them liable to a fine.
Now, anyone can play any instrument, anywhere and without a permit as long as noise restrictions are not violated, Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer Joshua Polk said.
Houston accordionist Anthony Barilla, who in January 2020 lodged the lawsuit, tested the ordinance prior to suing the city and found the eight-block zone void of pedestrians. Fewer people means fewer tips, he argued.
“It wasn’t financially worth it,” said Barilla, a member of the accordion band Houston’s A-S-S and a composer whose work has been heard on the radio program “This American Life.”
Barilla believes stretches of Westheimer in Montrose or along Main Street are better suited for sidewalk performances than the downtown Theater District. He recouped the cost of his $50 permit when he tested the busking waters. When his permit expired, he did not renew it. The application process required musicians to obtain written permission from “the abutting property owners” where they wish to play. Barilla was rejected thrice.
The judge’s ruling took exception to the busking ordinance as a First Amendment violation. Arturo Michel, who represented the city against the federal litigation, said the court, however, found no issue in how the ordinance regulated pedestrian traffic and safety.
The city has no plan to appeal the ruling and Mayor Sylvester Turner would rather have the ordinance amended as needed, city officials said.
See here and here for the background. I agree with this ruling and am glad that the city will not appeal. I said they should have settled the lawsuit and amended the ordinance as needed at the beginning, but for whatever the reason they went and defended the law. Kudos to Anthony Barilla for taking up this fight.