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‘The bill will be amended’: Squilla, Oh respond after artist registry uproar

Councilman Mark Squilla says he didn’t mean to create a registry of artists playing any venue in Philly, despite language in a bill he introduced that appears to do exactly that.

The councilman issued a statement on Facebook Wednesday evening after an uproar erupted over Billy Penn’s story detailing the contents of Squilla’s ‘Special Assembly’ licensing bill. The bill would require owners of entertainment venues both large and small to collect performance artists’ names, addresses, and phone numbers, increase the performance licensing fee, and empower the Philadelphia Police Department to approve licenses in conjunction with the Department of Licenses and Inspections.

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Squilla essentially reiterated his on-the-record comments, namely that his bill would close a loophole that allowed certain venues to livestream off-site performances without a license. He also characterized the collection of performers’ information not as a “registry” but something venue owners should have on hand “should the need arise.”

The bill drew concentrated online fire, including a Change.org petition and a firestorm of reaction on Facebook and Twitter, including nationally-known rapper El-P.

Councilman David Oh weighed in Wednesday evening as well. In a response to a critic, the Councilman-at-large tweeted that he opposes the legislation in its current form, adding cryptically: “Apparently there were various entities adding language to the bill. The bill will be amended” and that “the language does not reflect his intent.”

Comments from other city officials seemed to echo Oh’s words. Commissioner Richard Ross’s legal advisor, Captain Francis Healey, claimed the bill was being “misinterpreted and the department was only interested in getting advanced notice so police can be properly prepared for shows or other events,” according to a report on Philly.com.

Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt told the site the Mayor would “work with the community and City Council to make any changes to the legislative language necessary to make the intent clear and assuage public concerns.”

Squilla, in his statement, stressed that “this provision is NOT intended to restrict artistic expression or any kind of entertainment, but rather is aimed at addressing public safety and quality of life issues.”

Like previous remarks he made to Billy Penn, Squilla did not cite any specific incidents that may have prompted this legislation; why collecting information on performers playing venues hosting 50 or more audience members improved “public safety”; nor why police involvement in license approval was necessary. Squilla also did not address opponents’ concerns about his proposed annual licensing fee hike from $100 per year to $500 every two years.

Read his full statement below:

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Earlier Wednesday, Squilla’s office stoked already tense opposition to the bill with an aggressively moderated Facebook page, including the deletion of a post announcing a benefit concert headlined by Kevin Bacon’s band, after comments poured in from concerned and angry Philadelphians. Even after those Facebook remarks were deleted, criticism continued on his page in numbers approaching 300 as of last night:

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