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Judge's ruling could make dancer law moot

August 07, 2000

Judge's ruling could make dancer law moot



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The City Council is considering a new $3,000 fee for exotic entertainment clubs, but a federal court ruling against strip club licensing may have rendered the effort moot.

The state this year enacted a law forcing all strip clubs - even those not serving alcohol - to get $3,000 licenses from the state's Alcohol Beverage Control Commissioner.

The law allowed municipalities in which clubs are located to impose their own licensing fees, up to $3,000.

The Martinsburg City Council was expected to vote Thursday on a proposed $3,000 city fee.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II in Charleston said the new law is vague and ruled against it. He allowed a club owner to continue to operate while the law is reviewed further.

Haden said that the June 30 deadline for new clubs to obtain licenses is "constitutionally unacceptable."

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In light of the decision, the law is no longer in effect and Martinsburg apparently can't enact its own licensing fee, according to state Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, who sponsored the strip club bill.

Snyder hadn't seen the judge's decision Monday night, but vowed that the West Virginia Legislature will try at its next session to correct the bill's alleged flaws.

One of the key provisions of the bills was to set a cap on the number of exotic dance establishments in West Virginia. Only businesses that employed exotic dancers or wait staff at the time of the bill's passage were allowed to operate.

Snyder said the bill was not anti-exotic dancing, but aimed at regulating existing clubs and stopping new ones from opening. "Enough is enough," he said.

Martinsburg officials apparently were not aware of the court decision Monday afternoon.

There are currently several strip clubs in Berkeley County, but none in Martinsburg, according to City Manager Mark Baldwin. He said he doesn't know of any clubs proposed in the city.

"It's not like we're penalizing anyone (who is open now)," he said.

Baldwin said that if a strip club were to open without the city's proposed ordinance, it would be charged $15 for a business license, the same as another business.

The new state law governing "exotic entertainment" tightened restrictions. In the past, only clubs that served alcohol were required to get licenses from the ABC Commissioner. Now, all strip clubs need an ABC license, even if they only serve juice or soda.

Martinsburg's proposed ordinance went through its first and second readings last month. A third reading is scheduled for Thursday's council meeting. If the council approves it after a third reading, the ordinance would have been enacted.

There is no specific reference to strip clubs in the city's zoning regulations, but city officials said they would likely fall under the category "private club, commercial." Those clubs are limited to business zones.

Private clubs are permitted as a special exception in local business zones and allowed after a site plan review in the four other categories of business zones.

- The Associated Press contributed to this article

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