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Club, porn fight dropped

Adult wins its 6th decision this year in legislative matters. But it has lost 19 times.

Myrtle Beach- Horry County abandoned its attempted crackdown on sexually oriented businesses this week, deciding new laws would be too expensive and easy to thwart.

Increased regulation of strip clubs and pornography shops would cost the county about $750,000 the first year – 0.6 property tax mills – in legal bills and staff time, according to County Attorney John Weaver.

For more than a decade, the county has been searching for some legal way to push the strip clubs and pornography shops from area thoroughfares, but such business is generally considered protected expression under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In the past year, Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland and Councilman Howard Barnard have rekindled the fight. On Thursday, county Planning Director Janet Carter presented a sample law to a council committee that both Gilland and Barnard sit on, but she said any final rules would need much more work and would probably net few results.

“If you pass this or any ordinance, you can expect to be challenged before you even enforce it, and you can expect that challenge to last for years,” Carter said.

The Infrastructure and Regulation Committee decided to drop the search for a new law. Barnard compared the fight against sexually oriented businesses to the U.S. fight against communism in the last century and said the county must stay vigilant.

The right to free speech and expression covers a wide variety of activities, even activities and ideas that offend the majority. To get around that fundamental freedom, the county would have to prove sexually oriented businesses hurt the local economy, devalue property and cause crime, Carter said.

While it can’t bar certain dancing or magazines, the county does have the right to protect residents from those secondary effects of strip clubs and porn shops, if it can prove the effects exist, she said.

The facts are against it. The economy is booming and property values are going through the roof in Horry County, despite the clubs and shops.

“We are going to have a doggone hard time showing a decrease in property values. We are going to have a doggone hard time showing a decrease in economic activity due to sexually oriented businesses,” Carter said.

Also, any new regulations probably would get immediately tied up in court when strip club and porn shop owners sue, which would mean no changes in the county for years.

That could frustrate taxpayers who would have to foot the bill for more stringent regulation, said Steve Gosnell, director of the county Infrastructure and Regulation Division.

“If they pay the money, they are going to want to see the results and it’s going to be difficult to get the results,” Gosnell said.

The county’s Public Safety Division said there are much more pressing needs in the county.

“I would rather have more violent crimes detectives and more ambulances out there. It is a much bigger problem than sexually oriented businesses,” Public Safety Director Paul Whitten said.

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