Council Amends Adult Bookstore Bill, Lowering License Fee

April 26, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

The County Council amended a proposal to regulate adult bookstores last week, lowering the annual fee for a license from $500 to $200.

The council must vote on the amended version of the bill at its nextsession, May 5, or the proposal will automatically die. The bill would affect stores whose principal business is selling or renting sexually explicit films and published material.

At their meeting Tuesday, council members spent about 40 minutes debating the merits of 28 proposed amendments, many of which were minor wording changes that did not significantly alter the bill's effects.

Of the 28 proposed amendments, 21 were passed.

The most important change the council contemplated Tuesday concerned eligibility requirements for those who apply for a license to operate an adult bookstore.

The bill bars licenses to applicants if either they or their spouse, or a roommate, have been convicted of certain crimes, including indecent exposure, sodomy, prostitution, rape, selling obscene material or child pornography.

That provision remained in the billat the night's end despite advice from Council Attorney H. Edward Andrews III.

He told the council: "There's no rational basis for that provision. I don't know whether a bookstore owner can be responsible for knowing the background of his spouse or acquaintances.

"A private citizen can't request a criminal background check. I think it significantly weakens the bill. I don't think it would pass constitutional muster."

Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson said he felt thesection put "an unreasonable burden on the applicant."

But Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, said she felt the provision should remain because it was taken directly from a Dallas law, where the provision has withstood a trial court challenge.

Councilman Barry T. Glassman, R-District D, said he would not vote to remove the provision from the proposed law because "the other amendments passed tonight have considerably watered this bill down."

The amendment to withdraw that provision was defeated on a 4-to-3 vote. Council members Wilson, Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, and Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, voted to delete the language.

The major change debated by the council was a motion by the bill's sponsor, Councilman Philip J. Barker, D-District F, to lower the license fee from $500 to $200, which passed on a 4-to-3 vote.

Council members Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, Parrott and Glassman voted not to lower the fee, saying that a higher fee could help defer costs for additional police calls to adult bookstores. But Barker and other council members noted that other license fees are not that high, and that the $500 fee could therefore be an undue burden on an applicant.

Four existing adult bookstores in Harford County would be required to apply for a license and comply with operating requirements.

The four stores would, however, be exempt from a zoning provision included in the bill that prohibits future adult bookstores from operating within 1,000 feet of a church, school or residential neighborhood.

The bill also would require peep show booths in adult bookstores to have solid walls between them. The booths also would be required to remain open, with no curtains or doors, as a way to discourage illegal sex acts.

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