A new bill from Philly City Councilman Mark Squilla would require owners of nightclubs, cabarets, bars and restaurants in the city to collect the names, addresses, and phone numbers of entertainers — bands, rappers and DJs — in a registry, and to share that personal information with police upon request.
The proposal, which was introduced last week and is headed to a committee hearing, would directly involve the Philadelphia Police Department in the approval process for so-called “Special Assembly Occupancy” licenses — giving law enforcement de facto veto power over whether shows can be held at venues that hold 50 or more people.
Police spokeswoman Denise James would not comment, instead referring Billy Penn to the department’s public affairs office, which did not respond.
Police would factor into their decision-making things like “crime, traffic, litter, noise, parking and hours of operation; as well as any community concerns, particularly those of neighbors in the immediate vicinity,” according to the bill. The bill even covers live-streaming of shows.
“Giving performers’ information to police when requested enables them to review past performances to see if there were any public safety issues during their events,” Councilman Mark Squilla told Billy Penn via email.
Squilla vowed that “no specific music acts created this issue.” However, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sanchez, Chairwoman of the Committee on Licenses and Inspections, which will be reviewing the bill before it is up for a vote in Council, had a different take.
She cited concerns about artists who, she says, “have been known to have created incidents and violence at their previous acts.” While the Councilwoman did not name a specific music artist or act, last fall saw a deadly shooting outside of the TLA after a rap concert — which falls inside Squilla’s district.
Sean Agnew, owner of R5 Productions, worried immediately about the impact on the city’s music scene, and the practical application of such a sweeping request.
“This is news to me. I’m not sure what the reasoning or theory is. As someone who books 600+ shows a year, I have never once received an artist’s home address or phone number. It’s all through booking agents, managers, publicists,” Agnew told Billy Penn. “There is a firewall in place with the artists. I can’t imagine a band’s representatives wanting to give their clients information over to the police without a really good reason.”
Squilla’s bill also raises the license application fee: For years, owners paid $100 to apply for a license or to renew annually. Squilla says the bill would hike the cost to $500 every two years.
These licenses are not new, of course. In the past, the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) signed off on permits for venues ranging from World Cafe Live to private clubs.
But the bill raises all kinds of privacy concerns, according to the Pennsylvania ACLU.
“This bill reflects a strange expansion of police duties and a dangerous muddling of the line between law enforcement and business licensing,” said Mary Catherine Roper, Deputy Legal Director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, after reviewing the bill.
“No one can expect the PPD to approach this function the same way that L&I would approach it. They will approach it as another police function, informed by police priorities that may not be appropriate to the task.”
Roper did not want to speculate on potential issues arising from the “strange expansion” of police power in Squilla’s bill — like denying or revoking a venue’s performance license based, in part, on the artists involved, and the collection of artists’ information.
Squilla sees no legal problems, nor has he received pushback or criticism from Philly’s entertainment community over his bill, he says.
“Some clubs were operating without a license because they found a way to have music without a DJ or live performer/band,” Squilla said. “This legislation will include new forms of music/streaming that weren’t around when this first Special assembly bill became law.”
A similar (and wildly unpopular) effort known as the “Promoter’s Bill,” which focused on professional party planners and promoters, was spurred by Councilman Bill Greenlee in 2010. The bill passed with amendments after pushback but eventually defeated amid public opposition. Recent legislation in Harrisburg also seeks to ‘register’ another type of performer: adult entertainment dancers.
“That’s a little tricky,” Quiñones-Sanchez admitted when asked about police approval of licenses and the proposed collection of performers’ information. “But I think it’s become necessary.”
She said the bill would “encourage disclosure” so that safety and security concerns “can be addressed on the front end.” She added that concerned Philadelphians will have an opportunity to comment when a hearing date is chosen.
Agnew, for his part, now wants to work with Council to “craft a measure that’s a bit more realistic.”
“I’m just trying to think of a situation where the police want the addresses and numbers of the 10+ members of Arcade Fire,” he said. “Seems really intense.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this post reported that Councilman Greenlee’s 2010 bill was defeated; it passed, without the controversial registry provision.