(ran PS edition of PASCO TIMES)
Sex, at least the kind that turns a profit, has no business in Hernando County.
About 60 people, including religious leaders, parents and children, successfully delivered that message to county commissioners Tuesday. The group, some carrying Bibles, erupted in applause as the board unanimously approved an overhaul of the county's 18-year-old adult business ordinance.
To commissioners and those in attendance, the overhaul is viewed as a pre-emptive strike to make it more difficult for sex shops, erotic video stores, strip clubs and similar businesses to open in Hernando, as they have in Pasco and other counties to the south.
"They enhance pedophilia, they enhance sex crimes," David Garcia, pastor of the Brooksville Assembly of God, said shortly after the vote. "They . . . raise the sexual awareness of young children at a very premature age."
The county cannot ban sexually oriented businesses outright because of the free speech protection granted them by the courts. However, the law recognizes government's authority to regulate what are considered the "negative secondary impacts" of such establishments.
The 37-page revised ordinance refers to studies that indicate adult businesses lead to increased crime and blight in the areas where they operate, as well as contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and depressed property values.
Under the ordinance, those who own or work in adult establishments must pay an annual licensing fee to the county, $500 in the case of owners, $50 for workers. The licenses can be revoked for criminal activity and the possession or use of illegal drugs.
The law also limits such businesses to commercially zoned areas and prohibits their operation within 1,500 feet of churches, schools, parks, day care centers, residential areas and other sexually oriented establishments. The old law had a 1,000-foot minimum.
At present, county officials say they are not aware of any adult businesses in Hernando.
Though officials said it will now be more difficult for adult business entrepreneurs to challenge the county's ordinance in court or for them to locate in Hernando, they said it is impossible to ensure a strip club won't open here someday.
"The courts have said quite clearly these businesses have a First Amendment right to operate," said Assistant County Attorney Kent Weissinger, who wrote the ordinance.
There are, Weissinger said, between 12 to 15 sites in the county that meet the new law's criteria and could be used to locate an adult business in the future.
_ Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansantsptimes.com.