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Strip club zoning moves forward in W.Va.

February 28, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Legislation that would allow the Berkeley County Commission to restrict the location of strip clubs and other exotic entertainment businesses advanced to a second committee in the House of Delegates last week.

The language needed to give counties, such as Berkeley County, that have planning commissions the needed authority was amended into House Bill 2412 in the Political Subdivisions Committee, Del. Bob Tabb said Friday.

Sponsored by House Assistant Majority Whip Sam J. Argento, D-Nicholas, the bill is one of 263 bills pending in the Judiciary Committee.

As introduced, Argento's bill only proposed restricting the location of businesses that sell sexually oriented materials, according to the state Legislature's reference and information office, which posts the status of bills online.

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Yet, because it "opened" the same section of state code, the change Berkeley County officials wanted was amended into the bill Wednesday, said Tabb, D-Jefferson.

As the law stands now, counties that have zoning, such as Jefferson County or those that do not have a planning commission, can restrict locations of strip clubs.

An ordinance the Berkeley County Commission adopted in 2004 was deemed invalid last fall by a circuit judge after the backers of Paradise City Gentleman's Club at 9734 Winchester Ave. filed a petition for injunction in court.

The judge cited a 2006 ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia that limited the authority of counties with planning commissions.

"There's some (lawmakers) that don't want to (pass) it," Tabb said of legislation a united Eastern Panhandle delegation has sponsored this year in both chambers (Senate Bill 394 and House Bill 2805). "They say to pass zoning -- I look at it as correcting a problem."

While united on the strip club issue, Del. Craig Blair's proposal to randomly drug test recipients of welfare, unemployment and food stamp assistance has splintered support.

The bill, which has yet to be introduced, will propose those who test positive for illegal drugs lose their benefits if they again test positive after being given two months to get clean, Blair said Friday.

"I did not know this was going to be as hot of an issue as it is," Blair, R-Berkeley, said of the overwhelmingly positive feedback he has received about the bill.

State senators Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, and John Unger, D-Berkeley, said Friday they doubt the bill will make it out of committee.

If the bill happens to make it to the Senate, Unger said he would insert a provision that drug testing apply to state officials and lawmakers as well because the drug problem cuts across all income brackets and it would be unfair to single out those who are in need of public assistance.

"I just think it's a diversion from our real problems," Unger said.

Unger criticized Blair for focusing so much attention on testing the unemployed rather than "focusing on creating jobs to get people off public assistance."

Tabb said he was opposed to people using taxpayer money for illegal drugs, but suspected some people would "do without" rather take a urine test in front of someone, and others would resort to crime to get the money.

Another proposed bill -- House Bill 2677, which is backed by the Jefferson County delegation in the House of Delegates -- would allocate state money to provide a fourth magistrate for the growing judicial needs of the county.

"When you look at the caseload we have, it's justifiable," Tabb said. "We got the data to back it up."

Tight reins on spending because of the economic downturn, however, might kill the bill, Tabb said.

"We've got to be very prudent with what happens in the next budget year," he said.

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