A Harford County councilman expects to introduce a bill Oct. 8 that would establish Maryland's first comprehensive law for regulating the operation of adult bookstores.
The bill, sponsored by Councilman Phillip J. Barker, D-District F, is modeled after a more extensive ordinance in Dallas that regulates adult-oriented businesses and would affect all five adult bookstores in Harford and any new ones.
Barker, whose district contains four adult bookstores along the U.S. 40 corridor between Havre de Grace and Edgewood, says his bill is not intended to regulate the types of mag
azines, videos and other sexually oriented material sold. Instead, Barker and other council officials say, it would be aimed at preventing prostitution, drug use and other crimes that police say occur in and around the bookstores.
"We're not attempting to violate anyone's constitutional rights," Barker said. "It's just going to be a controlling device. Anything lawful that goes on in an adult bookstore will continue."
Larry Klimovitz, Harford's director of administration, said county officials would determine whether the bill is enforceable and constitutional.
The Anne Arundel County Council, which recently imposed a temporary moratorium on sexually oriented video peep shows, has contacted the Harford council and asked to review the proposed bill.
The bill, among other things, would:
* Require bookstore owners to obtain an operating license from the county Department of Licenses, Permits and Inspections and pay an application fee of $500.
* Require documentation of anyone who owns 10 percent or more of a bookstore.
* Require license applicants to submit to health code inspections. During an inspection, a health officer would attempt to determine whether a bookstore "has been the site of sexual acts," according to the draft bill.
* Allow the county to deny or revoke a bookstore's license if the applicant, licensee, licensee's spouse or someone with whom the licensee lives pleads guilty to or is convicted of violating various state obscenity laws, child-pornography laws, rape or other offenses. The bill also would allow the county to deny or revoke a license if the licensee allowed drug use or sex acts on the premises.
In addition, the bill says store managers must be able to view all areas of the premises open to customers, must provide certain lighting inside and outside the stores, and must prevent loitering. It also says peep show booths shall not be covered with curtains or doors.
The bill also says adult bookstores cannot operate within 1,00 feet of a church, school, public park, day-care facility or residential area.
Violations of the bill would bring a fine of up to $1,000, six months in jail or both.
Joseph LaVodie, manager of U.S. Books in Edgewood, recently said any attempt to establish a licensing law for adult bookstores would be "censorship in the worst possible vein." He predicted that the Harford bill would be challenged in court, even though the Dallas ordinance passed scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court after it was amended.
The Dallas ordinance, which also affects strip bars and other sexually oriented businesses, has been in force for about a year. Donald Postell, an executive assistant city attorney there, said the ordinance appeared to be limiting the number of sexually oriented businesses. Dallas had about 50 adult bookstores several years ago, he said, and there are about 20 today.
A manager at Highway Books in Aberdeen, another adult bookstore in Harford County, said he expected his operation would be able to conform to the proposed bill. "We pretty well have things controlled here," said the manager.
Cassilly, the county prosecutor who has announced plans to run
against U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., has had a strong hand in helping draft the bill. He has attempted to drive adult bookstores out of the county by conducting police raids and taking owners to court by alleging violations of state obscenity laws.
When asked if any provisions of the bill would lead to the closure of adult bookstores in the county, Cassilly said: "I think I'll weasel out of that answer. . . . If they would operate within the law, I would have no reason to bother them."