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Lawsuit challenges Va. visitors guide rules and fees

NORFOLK (AP) A Virginia Beach visitors guide publisher is challenging the rules and fees for distributing information at Virginia welcome centers and rest areas.

VistaGraphics Inc. president and owner Randy Thompson said in a lawsuit that the rules and fees violate his freedom of speech and due process rights.

Defendants include the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Thompson told The Virginian-Pilot that the state charges excessive fees to distribute visitors guides. His attorney, Kevin Martingayle, said the state’s content rules for guides are vague and contradictory.

“I’m a fan of VTC and advocate for them and their funding,” Thompson said. “But I feel I had to do this.”

Assistant attorney general Eric Fiske has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the free speech claims have no merit. In court filings, Fiske said the welcome centers and rest areas are “non-public forums.”

Thompson said that for the first time in two decades his company has had to pay about $400 a year per title in order to distribute guides at the centers.

“You have to pay a tariff almost to be there,” said Thompson, who publishes advertisement-heavy guides featuring articles on topics including the return of trolleys to Virginia Beach.

Martingayle said the regulations make business difficult for his client. Among other things, the lawsuit says the state’s content rules are “vague, confusing and contradictory,” and enforced unevenly. The lawsuit also argues that the regulations lack any mechanism for the company to appeal decisions, although Thompson said he has never had to turn away advertisements because of restrictions.

The lawsuit was transferred last week from Accomack Circuit Court to federal court.

Updated Aug. 24 to add details and quotes.

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