The Quiet War Against Psychics and Seers

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Whether it is from a religious bias, personal distaste, or misguided efforts to “protect” residents, psychic practitioners and divination peddlers have often faced problems with local governments. The most common way this manifests is an outright ban on divinatory practices, though recent court decisions have increasingly made this route untenable (not to mention expensive). But bans aren’t the only quiver in the arsenal against these business, instead of banning some simply regulate psychics out of existence.

If you’re a fortune teller in Hialeah [in Florida], you need a permit. No proof required. But, like in many cities around South Florida, there’s a fee to operate your fortune telling business. The cost for Hialeah seers: $1,000 … The matter dates back to 1983 when out of fear that a strip of palm-reader shops would develop, the Hialeah council decided to control the business by restricting palm readers, astrologers and fortune tellers to industrially-zoned areas. But [local fortune teller Nancy] Williams would not stand for it and filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s right to keep palm readers out of town. Her attorney Richard Gross argued the city had a right to regulate the craft, but not to stop it. He asked the council to allow seers in commercial areas. Then-Mayor Raul Martinez urged them to consider the amount of taxpayer money that would go to fighting the case, if they did not reverse the council’s 1983 decision. The council agreed. In 1989, the council passed an ordinance that required the businesses to be situated at least 1,000 feet from each other and 500 feet away from residential, school or church properties. It also set the cost of the occupational licenses at $1,000.

This ordinance, its high licensing fees, and combative attitudes towards practitioners of divination caused a drop since 1989 from 39 registered fortune tellers to just two. Now, twenty years later, the Hialeah Council is about to lower the fee to something more in line with neighboring cities.

The cost for Hialeah seers: $1,000. That amount soon might be reduced to $250, if the Hialeah Council agrees to the fee reduction at its next meeting Feb. 24. The ordinance unanimously passed first reading Feb. 9. Hialeah officials felt the fee was an abuse — one that might have been encouraging some to operate illegally — on all of the two registered city spiritualists. ”We’re just doing it essentially out of fairness,” said City Attorney Bill Grodnick.

One wonders what brought about this change of heart. It seems odd that the Hialeah Council suddenly realized the fee was “abusive”, could the loss of business to other cities and the economic downturn have anything to do with this? After all, according to some reports psychics, botanicas, and other services do pretty well in hard fiscal times (plus, I’m sure they hope that the practitioners operating under the table will decide to go legit). But is it too little and too late? Can Hialeah change its image as a city unfriendly to psychics? If not, it may be some unintended blowback in the quiet war against local seers.