While some opponents of pornography might like to see the county's four adult bookstores put out of business, legislation to be unveiled this week would protect their right to exist.
Under a draft of thelegislation, existing adult bookstores would be exempt, or "grandfathered," from zoning restrictions the bill would establish, said County Councilman Philip J. Barker, D-District F, sponsor of the legislation.
Stores which would have to meet conditions of the bill are defined as those whose "principal business" is the sale or rental of sexually explicit videos, movies, magazines and other printed materials.
Grandfathering is a common practice that exempts people or businesses already engaged in activities that would be prohibited under new laws.
Two of the existing adult bookstores would violate restrictions in the bill that would prohibit an adult bookstore from being located within 1,000 feet of a school, church, day care center, park or residential area. Under the bill, the two stores would be allowed to remain in business as long as they can meet other licensing requirements, Barker said.
"As we have drafted the bill, all the stores that were in business as of Jan. 31, 1992, will be grandfathered," said Barker.
Three of the existing adult bookstores are located on U.S. 40 and the other is located in on U.S. 1 in Fallston.
He also said that the grandfathering will pass to subsequent owners of the four stores.
"The reasonable thing was to look at what is in existence now and work from there," said Barker. "As we have drafted this measure, it is a licensing bill. People will have to conform to rules, regulations and specifications as outlined in the bill."
The legislation, however, would make it difficult for the owners of existing storesto expand. If an owners of an adult bookstore want to increase its floor area by more than 25 percent, they would have to seek approval from the county department of inspections, licenses and permits.
A 13-member citizens panel helped draft the bill.
Barker formed the panel last year after he was forced to withdraw an earlier version last November. At the time, county regulators told him that the bill would be too difficult to enforce.
The panel held meetings and a hearing on the bill and decided to model their bill after a Dallas ordinance upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Barker said.
"We are not going to infringe on anyone's right to own a business nor are we going to violate anyone's First Amendment rights to free speech," Barker said.
Jack T. Feldman, an attorney who represented the bookstore owners on the panel and objected to the zoning provisions that would have put those stores out of business, could not be reached for comment.
The thrust of the new version of the bill is to regulate adult bookstores in much the same fashion that the county government regulates liquor stores.
"Our purpose was to protect the health and safetyof Harford County residents and the people of other counties that become customers of these businesses," he said.
The panel originallyconsidered a provision that would have not allowed existing stores to remain in business if they could not meet zoning provisions.
During its meetings, the panel was told that even if the bookstores could not meet the zoning requirements, they still would have to meet other requirements.
They include going through an annual licensing procedure and paying a $500 licensing fee.
In addition, the bill would require that owners of the stores maintain a certain level of light in the building, have a clear line of vision of all areas of their stores including any film-viewing cubicles, and pass an inspection bythe county Health Department.
The bill also prohibits the county from granting a license to anyone who has been convicted or pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes including prostitution, incest, bribery and obscenity.
The prohibition also extends to any criminal acts committed by spouses, companions or other people who reside with the owner of the store.
Asked if this provision was constitutional, Barker said it was copied from the Dallas ordinance. He said the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the ordinance was constitutional and assumed that this particular provision was constitutional as well.
Under the present version of the bill, bookstore owners will also be responsible for seeing that no sexual activity, prostitution or other illegal activity takes place in their parking lots.
Barker said that during the past 18 months, deputies from the Harford County Sheriff'shad been called to adult bookstores 65 times to deal with crimes ranging from armed robbery to disorderly conduct.
He said that most of the problems occur because of the loitering in front of the adult bookstores.
"We hope this bill will cut down on the problems, particularly those related to drugs," Barker said.