N.J. Adult Business Regulation Bills Pass Assembly

Tod Hunter
TRENTON, N.J. — Two bills mandating restrictions on planned sexually oriented businesses in New Jersey were approved by large margins Monday in the state General Assembly, but they may encounter problems in the state Senate.

The first bill would permit municipalities to license sexually oriented businesses and require owners to post guards at their expense at stores within 3,000 feet of schools, school bus stops or childcare centers when children are present. It was approved 75-1 with four abstentions.

The second bill would require owners to obtain a use variance from a town's zoning board every time they want to open an adult store. That would require the owners to notify all property owners within 3,000 feet of the proposed sexually oriented business, and then present their plan at a public hearing. It passed 77-1 with two abstentions.

The bills would join existing New Jersey state law, which already bans adult stores from opening within 1,000 feet of churches, schools, school bus stops, hospitals and recreational areas.

"I think it was motivated by the religious right, with their own personal agenda. I'm appalled by what is going on with the religious right to impose their own personal morality on everybody," New Jersey Adult Cabaret Association Executive Director Jeff Levy told XBIZ. "[The legislators] are just too afraid to say 'We know what the truth is, it's just not a popular position.' It would be best if they looked to the facts."

The New Jersey Adult Cabaret Association testified against both bills in February and the association also submitted 12 studies published by academic institutions to the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee. The association now intends to send the studies to the state senators, Levy said.

Opposition to the bills also has come from the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, which considers the measures flawed. A legislative analyst said that municipalities may have to pay for the mandated guards instead of the adult store owners, and the laws will face 1st Amendment challenges.

"It's difficult to see how these provisions will pass Constitutional muster," 1st Amendment attorney Jeffrey Douglas told XBIZ. "In most states, the law is well developed that you may not have a discretionary authority to grant or deny a license when a factor in granting or denying a license is the content of the material.

"Here you have a requirement that there be discretionary disallowance by use of conditional use permits and similar approaches, like public hearings. If there are objective criteria, there's no point in having a public hearing. If the criteria are subjective, and community opposition could derail the opening of an otherwise-lawful business, it means that you have allowed a simple majority to interfere with the rights of speakers, and that is perfectly inconsistent with the 1st Amendment."

Levy told XBIZ that he plans to meet with Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, who sponsored both bills.