Potomac News Online | Targeted industries

Sean Connaughton has forced us to become the defenders of the porn industry in recent months, even though many on the editorial board find pornography offensive.

It’s not that the adult entertainment industry deserves defending, but the encroachment of government into private lives should be disdained. This is especially true when looking at Prince William County’s out of control adult business permitting process, which was approved by the board of county supervisors last week.

While Prince William County has no red light district, it does have a few establishments which sell adult videos, magazines and related items. Most residents pass these establishments every day and have no clue that they are in business.

Yet Connaughton and the rest of the county supervisors have aggressively attempted to rid the county of such businesses and are trying to keep out any similar enterprises. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, but the means to this end is frightening to say the least.

County supervisors were thwarted in their attempt to require these businesses to submit to constant video surveillance supervised by the chief of police. The county backed off this plan after threats of lawsuits from the ACLU. County supervisors, however, went ahead with plans to put other hurdles in place.

The new ordinance requires a $400 annual fee along with an application that must include a photo and fingerprint identification. If the county really wants to get serious, it can keep a small article of an applicant’s clothing sealed in an airtight jar just in case it needs to track him with bloodhounds someday. It worked for the East Germans.

The application fee is to cover the cost of a background check which will disqualify the applicant if it is discovered he or she committed a felony within the past five years.

Requiring the proprietor of such businesses – or any free enterprise – to submit to this is excessive. Some argue that we require background checks for day care clinics, which is true, but no one drops their kids off at an adult video store each morning.

The problem is that once these laws apply to one particular business (in this case it’s adult businesses), any future board could apply it to other enterprises it finds undesirable.

How long until the county begins to lean on gun dealers, hotels, waste management companies, lingerie shops, home builders or newspapers?

It could be the beginning of, as one letter writer called it, “an Orwellian slippery slope.”

With this law, the county supervisors have chosen to pick on the weak and vulnerable in hopes of gaining a political payoff. While it may help keep the wrong people from operating such businesses, it’s tough to say how this law will be interpreted in years after Connaughton and the current board leaves office. A precedent will be set, if the law stands as is.

The county has worked hard to amend the zoning laws to prevent such businesses from operating too close to our schools, churches and homes. This has proven to be an effective way of dealing with such undesirable businesses.

But with no track record of public nuisances, we are left to question the county’s motives in launching a preemptive strike of intimidation against the owners of adult businesses.

While few people will defend these businesses (at least publicly), we must ask ourselves: Which type of business will be targeted by the county next?

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