A bill to regulate adult bookstores merits approval because it wouldend sexual activity in the shops and their parking lots, the county state's attorney said at a public hearing on the measure Tuesday.
Harford State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly told the County Council that it should pass the bill because hindering sexual activity at the shops would curb the spread of sexual diseases.
Under the proposal, adult bookstore owners and employees would berequired to monitor shops and parking lots for sexual activity. Doors and curtains would be banned from peep-show booths, and walls wouldseparate booths.
"We sent undercover officers into two of the four existing adult bookstores, and on every occasion they observed sexual activity and bodily fluids on the floors and walls of peep show booths," Cassilly told the council.
"We're hoping this will make it easier to enforce the law by making employees and owners take more responsibility."
The bill, proposed by Councilman Philip Barker, D-District F, calls for a $500 annual licensing fee, background checks of criminal activity on owners and employees and zoning restrictions for new stores.
The council could vote on the bill as early as Tuesday.
The zoning restrictions would prohibit new adult bookstores from locating within 1,000 feet of a church, day care center or residential neighborhood. The four existing bookstores would be exempt fromthe zoning restrictions.
But the bill would require the four existing adult bookstores to obtain county approval for space expansions of 25 percent or more.
The Rev. Darryl Zohler, pastor of the Darlington United Methodist Church, testified the new law is needed because pornography "hurts and often kills."
"Is it a sin? The last timeI checked the Old and New Testament it was. It must be regulated," said Zohler.
Diannalea Hughes, an Abingdon resident, told the council she thinks existing adult bookstores should also come under the new zoning restrictions
"We cannot allow them to operate," said Hughes.
Jack T. Feldman, a lawyer representing the four existing adultbookstores in the county, said his clients would not object to the zoning requirements as long as existing stores were exempt from the zoning restrictions.
"But I have a problem with the $500 fee; there's no basis for a $500 fee. There are no other fees higher than $200,"Feldman said, referring to county business licensing fees.
Feldman criticized the testimony of some of the bill's supporters, saying that "calling pornography immoral, sinful and obscene is only complicating the issue. It's a judge's job to judge that."
Cassilly said his chief concern was crime.
"The things I'm going to talk about are not pleasant and are embarrassing to me," said Cassilly. "On one occasion, a 15-year-old youth said he had been to the bookstore for thepurpose of meeting men for sexual activity. Some
robbers have told us they selected their victim because they could rob him without fear he would later report the crime because he would be too embarrassed to say he had been at an adult bookstore."
Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, questioned Cassilly about whether laws against loitering and sexual activity in public are already in place.
Cassilly said such laws do exist but are hard to enforce because adultbookstore employees "have made no bones about knowing what goes on in theaters and parking lots."
"This will force them to clean up their act. We're not out to put anybody out of business, we just want them to take responsibility."