Inspectors Balk At Adult Shop Bill

Licensing Bill Described As 'Difficult To Enforce'

September 29, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

A bill that would require adult-bookstore owners to obtain annual operating licenses and allow county inspectors to check their shops might be difficult to enforce, says the county director of the Department of Inspections, Licensing and Permits.

The resulting inspectionsand paperwork would put too great a demand on the 35-member staff atthe department, said its director, Stephen K. Kimlicko.

"(The bill) is quite complex and would be extremely difficult to enforce," Kimlicko said. "I'm not even sure we would have the wherewithal to do that."

Kimlicko is reviewing a draft of the bill, whichis scheduled to be introduced to the County Council next month. The bill, based on one in Dallas, is the first of its kind in Maryland.

Its author, Councilman Philip J. Barker, D-District F, said the proposal is aimed at curtailing crime, not at putting the county's five adult shops out of business.

"(The bill) is just a licensing mechanism to make sure the people doing business are protected as well as the public," Barker said. "Anyone running a lawful business will not be affected by it."

The bill would require bookstore owners to prohibit their business from becoming a place for customers to use drugs, meet prostitutes or engage in sex.

The draft bill calls for violators to be charged with a misdemeanor and subjected to penalties of up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail. Violations could be appealed to the county Director of Administration and then to Harford Circuit Court.

In addition to addressing existing bookstores, the draft bill would regulate the location of adult bookstores.

The billprohibits the stores within 1,000 feet of churches, schools, public parks, child-care centers and residential neighborhoods. If any of these are opened or built within 1,000 feet of an adult bookstore afterthe bookstore owner obtains a county operating license, the owner would not be considered in violation of the bill.

Barker said he will introduce the bill at the County Council's Oct. 8 meeting. Public hearings on the legislation have not been scheduled.

Under the draft bill, bookstore owners would have to pay a $500 fee to obtain a county license to operate.

Applicants would have to provide a copy oftheir corporate bylaws, a floor plan of their building or shop, and a statement as to whether they or any of their employees have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a criminal charge.

The bill says county inspectors would check to determine if the applicant meets county building and health codes. A decision on the application would be made by Kimlicko's staff within 45 days.

Applicants would have to pay a $500 fee to renew their license each year. The bill does not specify how application fees collected will be used by the county.

The bill states that bookstore owners would have to permit Harford sheriff's deputies or Kimlicko's staff to inspect the business at any time.

Kimlicko said the county now requires other businesses, such as

pawn shops, taxi companies and door-to-door sales staff, to obtain operating licenses.

In addition, bookstore owners would be required to:

* Arrange the shop so that employees can observe all areas that are open to the public from the shop counter. Merchandise depicting sexual activity could not be visible from outside the store.

* Construct a manager station near "viewing booths or theaters." Themanager must give a ticket to each customer who uses the booth or theater and retain part of the ticket for the store's records. Viewing booths cannot have screens, doors or curtains over the entrance. The booths also must be separated by a solid partition.

* Prohibit minors from entering the store.

* "Regularly" check the shop's parking lot and prohibit loitering outside the store. The parking lot must be lighted. The bill does not define how often lots must be checked.

William E. Seekford, a Towson attorney representing the owner of two Edgewood book stores, said he will caution the council to make sure the bill does not infringe on the constitutional rights of the owners.

Seekford, whose client, Larry C. Hicks, was charged with 202 counts of illegally displaying sexually explicit materials in June 1989, said he will review the draft bill and most likely voice his concerns at the council's public hearing.

Harford State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly organized a June 1989 raid on four bookstores from which alleged sexually explicit magazines and videotapes were seized by police. The shop owners, including Hicks, were charged with illegallydisplaying explicit materials.

Seekford questioned the role of Cassilly in drafting the bill, saying the prosecutor might use the billto shut down the adult shops.

Cassilly, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1992, asked the council earlier this year to draft the legislation after a series of crimes occurred at adult bookstores in the county.

"These stores serve as a magnet for certain people who wish to commit crime," said Cassilly. "The gist of the bill is to get (the owners) to operate their business so as not to encourage crime."

Recent crimes police say they believe are tied to adult-shop customers include the April 1990 stabbing death of a 17-year-oldHavre de Grace boy who, police believe, met his killer at U.S. Books, an Edgewood adult shop owned by Hicks.

In addition, a Perryman man was shot and robbed by three teen-agers he met at U.S. Books and took to his home in October 1990, police said.

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