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Obscenity ordinance will be on ballot

Montana-“What’s an SOB?” you ask. It might be something different than what you think.

Yellowstone County voters will decide the fate of two ballot issues in two weeks pertaining to the regulation of SOBs – sexually oriented businesses.

The June 6 primary election ballot includes two proposals – one to block the spread of obscene materials and a second to use zoning laws to more closely regulate sexually oriented businesses such as strip clubs and adult bookstores. The Yellowstone County Commissioners voted unanimously to place both proposals on the ballot.

The commissioners put the measures on the ballot without requiring supporters to gather signatures through the initiative process.

The proposed countywide obscenity ordinance defines something as obscene if the “average person, applying contemporary adult standards, taken as a whole, would find that the material appeals to the prurient interest in sex” and that a reasonable person would judge that the work “lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”

Under state law, a person commits a criminal offense when he distributes obscene materials to anybody under age 18. The ordinance being considered in Yellowstone County would make it a crime to distribute obscene materials to adults.

The ordinance restricting sexually oriented businesses would apply only to the 4.5 mile zoning jurisdiction area outside Billings city limits, and the 1 mile zoning jurisdiction area outside Laurel city limits, although all county voters will vote on it.

If voters approve the zoning ordinance, any new strip club or adult arcade within the county’s zoning area would have to comply with a lengthy list of restrictions added to the zoning code. Video-viewing booths in adult arcades could not have doors, meaning patrons would always be within sight of a store manager. Under another provision of the ordinance, strippers would have to remain at least 9 feet from customers.

Critics say the two ordinances are so poorly worded that they could be used to infringe on legitimate artistic expression. And the taxpayers could end up paying for an expensive court fight if the ordinances are challenged. In April, the Billings Cultural Partners voted to oppose the proposed ordinance.

Dallas Erickson of Stevensville and a local organization Citizens Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) first presented the anti-obscenity ordinance and the sex-business zoning ordinance to the Yellowstone County Commission in 2002. They’re similar to ordinances that have been approved in other cities and counties in Montana. Erickson is the founder of Help our Moral Environment (HOME).

If the zoning rule is changed, neither of the county’s two strip clubs (Planet Lockwood or Shotgun Willie’s) nor the handful of adult bookstores would be forced to close because they would be “grandfathered” in under the previous regulations, Chief Deputy Yellowstone county Attorney Dan Schwarz said.

Schwarz said he couldn’t remember a case in which somebody has been prosecuted under the existing statewide obscenity laws designed to shield minors from obscene materials.

Speaking of SOBs, they are already regulated here in Laurel. Former Laurel Alderman Gary Temple spearheaded the effort to keep SOBs out of the downtown Laurel business district in 2000.

The Laurel City Council approved a Sexually Oriented Business ordinance in October of 2000. The ordinance controlled where sexually oriented businesses could be located in Laurel. It created 1,000-foot minimum spacing limits from residential and commercial properties, parks, schools and churches.

The Laurel ordinance does not prohibit sexually oriented businesses, but it regulates where they can be located and what requirements must be met to obtain a city business license.

Complete copies of the Yellowstone County Obscenity Ordinance and the Amended Zoning Regulations as to Sexually Oriented Businesses that will appear on the primary election ballot are available for public inspection at the Yellowstone County Commissioner’s Office in the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings or at the County Election Administrator’s Office.

Comparison of Existing Regulation to Proposed Regulation

Section 27-611 Sexually Oriented Businesses (SOB)

Existing SOB Regulation

Restricts and defines:

€ Adult Arcades

€ Adult Book Stores

€ Adult Video Stores

€ Adult Motels

€ Adult Movie Theaters

Allowed Only in four Zoning Districts

€ Central Business District

€ Highway Commercial

€ Controlled Industrial

€ Heavy Industrial

Minimum separation from another SOB

€ 600 feet

Minimum separation to residential zoning, libraries, playgrounds, parks, public and private schools, day cares, churches and other places of worship

€ 1,000 feet

Legal Nonconformity lapse period

€ 1 year

Restriction on size of viewing booth/room

€ None

Sign Limitations

€ Prohibits obscene, pornographic or immoral words or pictures (City Sign Code)

€ No prohibition in County Sign Code

€ Size and number limited by City and County Sign Code applicable to zoning district

Operating Standards

€ Prohibits nude dancing where alcohol is served (City only)

Proposed SOB Regulation

Restricts and defines:

€ Adult Arcades

€ Adult Book Stores

€ Adult Video Stores

€ Adult Motels

€ Adult Movie Theaters

€ Viewing Rooms/Booths

€ Nudity in Sexually Oriented Businesses

Restricts but does not define:

€ Adult Massage Parlor

€ Adult Sauna

€ Adult Entertainment Center

€ Adult Cabaret

€ Adult Health/Sport Club

€ Adult Steam Room/Bathhouse Facility

€ Nude Dancing Establishment

Allowed Only in four Zoning Districts

€ Central Business District

€ Highway Commercial

€ Controlled Industrial

€ Heavy Industrial

Minimum separation from another SOB

€ 600 feet

Minimum separation to residential zoning, libraries, playgrounds, parks, public and private schools, day cares, churches and other places of worship

€ 1,000 feet

Legal Nonconformity lapse period

€ 1 month (30 days)

Restriction on size of viewing booth/room

€ 150 square feet

€ No doors allowed

€ Viewable from manager’s station

Sign Limitations

€ Prohibits pictures, silhouettes or drawings of any kind – just business name

€ Requires uniformity on lettering and background of sign

€ Limits each SOB to two signs maximum – three display sides total

€ Must be a rectangle, not exceed 75 square feet, cannot exceed 10 feet in height or 10 feet in length

€ No flashing lights allowed

€ Must post sign on each door stating “Adults Only” or “No Minors Allowed”

Operating Standards

€ Prohibits nudity and specific sexual activity in any SOB except for Adult Motels

€ Prohibits SOB in any building where alcohol is served except for Adult Motel (City and County)

€ Prohibits employees from soliciting for business outside the SOB

€ Requires live performances in SOB to be on a stage and at least 9 feet from audience

€ May not be open between midnight and 9 am.

€ No minors allowed in SOB

€ In Adult Video Arcades lighting must be at least 5 foot-candles at floor level

€ In Adult Video Arcades must have easily cleaned walls and flooring in viewing booths, rugs and carpeting are prohibited

€ No merchandise or activities can be displayed from building exterior

€ No flashing lights, drawings, pictures or silhouettes on the building exterior

€ Single color required on building exterior unless part of a multi-tenant building

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