Protect Your Community from Sexually Oriented Businesses
Thursday April 7, 2011
by Daniel Weiss
Many people wonder if communities can simply bar all sexually oriented businesses from their area or make local laws so restrictive that such businesses could not possibly operate there.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such businesses have a right to exist and that many of their materials and activities have First Amendment protections. However, as the court held in Renton v. Playtime Theaters and other rulings, communities have the right to protect themselves from the negative secondary effects associated with sexually oriented businesses.
Specifically, communities are allowed to enact content-neutral time-place-manner regulations to limit the negative impact such business may bring to an area.
The following is a basic overview of some of the regulations communities are allowed to pursue. This guide is not intended to be legal advice, nor is it intended to be a template for legislation. If you would like assistance drafting constitutionally sound regulations for your community, contact the ROCK office here.
Hours of operation – can specify that an adult business must close during certain times of the day or night and, in some jurisdictions, on Sunday.
Location – businesses can be zoned certain distances away from residential areas, places of worship, day cares, schools, public parks, libraries, government offices and other areas where families and children tend to gather.
Non-clustering – distance requirements can be established to prevent a clustering of sexually oriented businesses, which research has shown to magnify negative secondary effects.
Other alcohol establishments – businesses can be removed a certain distance from other establishments that serve alcohol.
Business signage – can limit the size and content depicted on signs at or around the business premises, including prohibiting content emphasizing or depicting sexual activities.
Material hidden from public view – must keep all materials, signs and activities hidden from public view, including from sidewalks, streets and interior hallways.
Employee requirements – can set the minimum age at which a person can work for or within a sexually oriented business.
Patron age requirements – can specify that minors are not allowed on the premises and can require that certain actions are taken to prevent minors’ entry.
Alcohol prohibitions – businesses may be barred from selling or serving alcohol or from allowing alcohol on the premises.
Bookstore/ peep booth regulations:
No openings between booths –to prevent sexual contact between patrons.
Strip club regulations:
Clear line of site – can require that no area of a premises that is open for patrons have an obstructed view from a manager’s or cashier’s station, except restrooms.
Booth occupancy – can require that no viewing booth be occupied by more than one person at a time.
Construction materials – can require non-porous, easily cleanable surfaces for viewing booths.
Lighting – can ensure that the establishment is sufficiently illuminated for a manager to clearly see all activities.
No nudity – can prohibit nudity by employees and/or patrons.
Buffer zone – can require that employees in a state of nudity or semi-nudity be separated from patrons by a specified distance, including being on a raised platform.
No touching – can prohibit employees who regularly appear in a nude or semi-nude state from touching patrons or their clothing.
Direct tipping – can prohibit employees while performing in a state of nudity or semi-nudity from directly accepting any payment or gratuity from a patron.
Operating license – can require that businesses be licensed with the governing authority. Such license requirements may include: name and location of business, information about owner of record and all partners capable of making business decisions, date of birth, copy of government-issued photo ID, set of fingerprints, record of convictions for specified criminal activities, a list of specified activities that may occur on premises, and a diagram or sketch of the floor plan and business layout.
Licensing provisions – clearly spelled out list of circumstances under which an operating license will not be issued, including matters related to applicant’s age, criminal record, unpaid taxes, truthfulness in the application, violations of health or fire codes, zoning violations, etc.
Inspections – allows for reasonable inspections for code compliance within normal operating hours.
Employee licenses – require all employees to be licensed. Can include name, government-issued ID, current photo, known aliases, date of birth and address.
License fees – can set reasonable licensing fees that cover administrative costs, background checks, inspections and other related costs.
Revocation of license – sets stipulations for revoking and/or reinstating an operating license that has been revoked.
For help crafting zoning ordinances or business regulations in your community, contact ROCK here.
Daniel Weiss is ROCK's director of research and national outreach.