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Revamped Bill Calls for Costumed Characters to Remove Masks, Pay for IDs

 In 2014, City Councilman Andy King (pictured) proposed legislation that would require Times Square costumed characters to wear ID cards.
In 2014, City Councilman Andy King (pictured) proposed legislation that would require Times Square costumed characters to wear ID cards.
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DNAinfo/Trevor Kapp

CITY HALL — Costumed characters in Times Square could be required to remove their masks on command and pay $30 to register for a photo ID card under proposed legislation.

In 2014, Bronx City Councilman Andy King introduced a bill that called for costumed characters in Times Square to wear photo IDs, undergo background checks and register with the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs by paying $170 over two years.

King and members of the Committee on Consumer Affairs presented a stripped-down version of the same bill Wednesday — designed to “make sure we’re able to identify those folks who go out there to solicit [tips]... or engage with the tourist population, as well as regular New Yorkers,” he explained.

“[We need to] make sure we can identify Spider-Man number one from Spider-Man number four,” King added.

The legislation would “weed out some of the bad seeds who make it difficult for [costumed characters who are out [there] doing the right thing,” the councilman added.

The proposed measure comes less than a month after the Council passed a bill that would allow the city’s Department of Transportation to restrict characters and other performers working for tips to “designated activity zones” within Times Square’s pedestrian plazas.

In April, three costumed characters — including a Minnie Mouse, a Spider-Man and a Penguin — were arrested for allegedly harassing tourists for tips.

The renewed push for regulation would require any Times Square performer wearing a mask, makeup or other object “that obscures or shrouds the face of a person beyond recognition” to pay $30 to register with the Department of Consumer Affairs, with a $10 replacement fee.

Performers would be required to wear the registration cards, which would display their photos, “conspicuously” while working for tips.

Police officers and authorized city employees could legally ask performers to remove their masks or any other face-obscuring accessories to confirm that their identities match their registration cards.

Violations would result in a civil penalty of $25 to $100, with a fine of $100 to $250 for a subsequent violation within a year, according to the bill.

Topless painted "desnudas" would not fall under the legislation's jurisdiction, Councilman Rafael Espinal noted after the hearing.

A DCA representative at the hearing said the department “shared the Council’s goal of protecting consumers and tourists,” but declined to support the bill in its current form.

The department would need the power to deny, revoke or refuse to renew registrations in the case of characters who engage in “problematic behavior” like aggressive solicitation, he said.

“If we are giving our imprimatur to an individual, what we are essentially implying to a consumer… is that it is somehow safe to be interacting with this particular individual,” he said.

NYPD officials at the hearing raised their own concerns about the bill.  

A criminal penalty would need to be available to require costumed characters to produce identification and “elevate severity of enforcement for repeat offenders," NYPD's Chief of Manhattan South William T. Morris said.

Characters asked to present identification or move could refuse an order without “the potential of a criminal sanction,” he added.

King seemed open to revising the bill to reflect both the DCA's and NYPD's concerns.

“I think we’re all on the same page… making sure the bill is solid enough that it will pass, and that it does what it’s intended to do,” the councilman said.

Only Batman impersonator Jose Escalona-Martinez, 42, — who in 2014 said the idea of wearing an ID card “[didn’t] bother [him],” spoke out against the bill in its entirety.

“Nobody can tell me that I need to have a license, because I already have a driver’s license,” he told committee members. “[The city] just wants to take control, and that is not going to happen.

“We use Times Square — Times Square cannot use us.”