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Kansas Billboard Issue…

TOPEKA – Highway billboards are the latest battlefield in a growing effort to shut down or at least isolate sex-oriented businesses in Kansas.

A bill pending in the Senate would ban billboards advertising adult video stores, strip clubs and other sex-related businesses along highways.

If the store is located near a highway, the bill would require shrinking the size of the sign in front of the store to one-tenth of the current size of a billboard.

The sign bill is just one weapon that sex-shop opponents are employing at the state level and in communities across the state.

In the House, they are seeking a 25 percent tax on products and services available at the businesses.

And in cities across the state, efforts are under way to zone the businesses out of the commercial mainstream and, in some cases, to seek criminal charges.

In Wichita, a second petition is being circulated to convene a grand jury to review material and potentially charge businesses with obscenity. A similar effort last year resulted in a single charge against one business for one video.

“We think 90 percent of everything in all those stores is obscene,” said Jan Beemer, president of the anti-pornography group Operation SouthWind.

She said the group already has 4,000 signatures seeking a probe of nine businesses. Just under 2,600 would be needed to force a state grand jury investigation.

Lawyers who represent the adult businesses say the proposed sign restrictions, as well as taxes and other targeted measures, are unlikely to hold up to a court challenge.

“Oh, make me some money. I’m loving it,” said Steve Joseph, who is defending the owner of Priscilla’s against a single charge of obscenity resulting from the earlier grand jury probe.

A Senate committee heard Tuesday from proponents of the billboard proposal.

Phillip Cosby of Abilene, instrumental in organizing sex-shop opponents in nearly a dozen communities, said various groups are employing 11 different strategies in the fight.

The adult businesses, he said, are “an open sewer that is changing Kansas.”

The link between pornography and criminal behavior is strong, he said, and serves as the basis for zoning laws that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld.

Stiff taxes are justified, too, Cosby said.

“In taxation, we’re saying, ‘You need to pay for the damages,’ ” he said.

As proposed, any adult business located within a mile of a highway, as most of them are, would be limited to two signs.

The first sign could be no bigger than 40 square feet, or 4 feet by 10 feet. Only the business name, address, telephone hours and operating hours could be displayed.

A second sign would be required stating that the premise is off-limits to minors.

Signs alerting travelers to the business in advance would be prohibited.

Senate Bill 519 also defines terms such as adult cabaret, nudity, semi-nudity and sexually oriented materials. It is patterned after a Missouri law that has survived one test in federal court, although supporters expect it to be appealed. Like the Missouri law, the Kansas proposal would give businesses three years to change their signs.

No opponents addressed the committee Tuesday. Their arguments typically are made in court.

“I don’t see how it wouldn’t violate the First Amendment,” said Charles O’Hara, a Wichita lawyer who has represented clients in free-speech cases.

Joseph said lawmakers are attempting to regulate protected, commercial speech.

“They’re appealing to a certain group of people who want this kind of thing and, of course, they’re good voters,” he said.

The chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, gave no indication when or if the panel would act on the bill.

In the House, the tax bill was assigned to a subcommittee after a hearing in the full taxation committee. The chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, said his focus will be the constitutionality, not the merits of the supporters’ and opponents’ arguments.

In November, the Wichita City Council enacted zoning ordinances that prohibit adult businesses within 500 feet of churches, schools, licensed day care facilities, public parks, residential districts, Old Town and other sex-oriented businesses.

The city gave businesses two years to comply. At least eight will have to move unless the zoning is successfully challenged in court.

Businesses targeted in the latest petition drive seeking a grand jury are Circle Cinema, 2570 S. Seneca; Frolix, 4730 S. Broadway, Party Store, 9601 E. Kellogg, Priscilla’s, 2606 S. Rock Road; Vegas Video, 8323 W. Kellogg; Video Adventures, 2726 Amidon; Xcitement Video, 3909 W. Pawnee; After Dark Video, 3721 S. Broadway; and After Dark Video, 2809 N. Broadway.


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