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Senators try to reduce strip club growth with bill

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON -- Sen. Bill Sharpe said a Senate bill that places restrictions on "exotic entertainment" is an attempt to at least reduce the growth of strip clubs without violating the First Amendment.

Senate Bill 415 would require all establishments that provide exotic entertainment to obtain a license from the ABCC, regardless of whether they serve alcohol. Sharpe said the bill, which passed the Senate early this week, was aimed at "juice bars" that evade regulation by not serving alcohol. Violation of the licensing provision would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,000 to $3,000 and/or up to one year in jail.

Also, the bill provides for a $3,000 license fee to be paid to the state, as well as requiring operators to pay a municipal license fee. Municipalities would be allowed to charge up to but not more than the state fee. Private clubs would not be exempt from the regulations.

"We were told this was one way to curtail these establishments that would be acceptable to courts," Sharpe said. "I do not support these kind of establishments ,and I think we need to get them under control like the gray machines."

Only two senators voted against the bill. One, Senate Majority Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, said he thought the bill was "very poorly written and likely unconstitutional."

Sharpe said he also was concerned about the constitutionality issue, but noted that in order for the law to be thrown out, someone would have to go to court to challenge it.

"It's worth a try," he said.

Though Sharpe supported the bill, he said he has reservations about the fact that the licenses would be transferable.

"I still support the bill but I'm worried that being able to transfer the licenses will make them more valuable," Sharpe said.

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