ACLU decries county plan for more porn regulations

Even before Prince William County enacts an ordinance regulating adult businesses, the American Civil Liberties Union is calling the proposal too restrictive.

In a Tuesday letter to Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-At large, Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU’s Richmond office said the scope of the legislation’s invasion of privacy is “staggering.”

Her letter urged the board not to adopt the proposed legislation.

In September, Connaughton recommended the county adopt regulations governing adult bookstores, video stores and other businesses catering to sexual stimulation or activities.

In addition to purchasing a business license, prospective operators would have to apply to police Chief Charlie Deane or his designee for a $500 permit.

On Tuesday, the Board of County Supervisors unanimously approved a proposed zoning text amendment that would begin the process of regulating adult entertainment.

But it would be several months before such legislation is enacted, and that would take place only after a public hearing before the Planning Commission and then the Board of County Supervisors.

“I think we need to take a look at this,” said Supervisor John D. Jenkins, D-Neabsco, who made the motion to approve the resolution. “We don’t want to allow access to smut to minors, and many people are concerned about this.”

The county code prohibits the dissemination of sexually explicit material to minors and also prohibits nudity where alcohol is served, but no laws exist to govern adult video and book stores.

Although only a few adult video stores exist in the county, Connaughton said more will come as the county grows. Other Virginia jurisdictions have tried to control the growth of these stores because of concern for increases in crime, sexually transmitted diseases and declining property values.

Under the proposal, police would be authorized to perform background checks on operators and could deny them permits if they had a felony conviction or had been convicted of moral depravity or obscenity in the recent past. They could also be denied if they had a permit revoked within the past year under an adult business ordinance elsewhere.

The First Amendment protects books, videos and other forms of expression with sexually explicit content, the ACLU said. The Supreme Court has ruled that there is a great deal of flexibility to regulate adult stores based on secondary effects, but localities need to justify those, said Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU.

The ACLU objected to giving the police chief the ability to revoke permits without due process. His or her ability to issue permits in the first place is “a prior restraint on speech,” the ACLU said. But one of it’s biggest objections was to surveillance cameras that would continuously pan the parking lots of stores.

The Prince William ordinance would require the operator of the shop to install, operate and maintain equipment to continuously monitor all entrances, and parking areas as well as all areas of the business itself.

“Clearly the reason for doing this is not a matter of public safety but an implied threat that the police and perhaps local government could find out who they are,” Willis said.

Chesterfield County had a similar provision in its ordinance but was persuaded to make changes in order to satisfy the ACLU’s concerns, he said.

The ACLU only undertakes lawsuits if there is plaintiff, Willis said, so the ordinance would have to be contested by a prospective operator for it to become involved.

In the meantime, Glenberg said the proposed ordinance fails constitutional scrutiny and is an invitation to litigation.

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