EL PASO, Texas - El Paso County Commissioners voted 4-0 to amend regulations on sexually oriented businesses.
Dan Haggerty was not present at the meeting, and did not vote.
El Paso County previously passed a 20-page list of regulations in 2008. The amendment make several changes, including signage, licensing and the distance allowed between two sexually oriented businesses.
Previously, sexually oriented businesses in El Paso County were limited to signs that covered 10 percent of a building's wall. Stand-alone signs were not permitted. In a concession, the county decided to allow stand-alone signs because so many businesses were far from roads. A limit to the size of the signs was not made, however, they can only state the name of the business. Other pictures, or words, are not permitted.
The major change will be a licensing process that all sexually oriented business employees will have to take part in. Every year, an employee will pay a $50 fee, with an annual renewal fee of $25.
Sheriff Richard Wiles, who supported the changes, said the fee isn't to deter workers. Instead he said it would help law enforcement.
He pointed to a case in May when a man died of natural causes at the Red Parrot in far east El Paso County. According to Wiles, no one kept records of the dancers at the establishment which led to a lengthy investigation to simply speak to a woman who was near the man at the time of his death.
"Once we have that permitting in place and they have that license if an incident occurs in an establishment we have access to that license, that information so we can locate that person," said Wiles.
Wiles said the regulations were important, because even more stringent regulations within the city of El Paso could force more businesses into the county. Specifically, he said the new ban on sexually oriented businesses being within 1,000 feet of one another would stop the possibilities of a red light district emerging in El Paso County.
The new changes will take place immediately. However, the employees needing to get licensed will be given a 90-day grace period.
Commissioners said the licensing was a big step, because previously only businesses needed to be licensed. However, Wiles said that aspect of the sexually oriented businesses regulations weren't being enforced for a long period of time because there wasn't anyone in charge of permitting. His office has since taken on that task, and will also be handling the permitting of the individual employees.
Violations of the licensing regulation would be considered a class "C" misdemeanor, and would carry a fine of $500 for the individuals. It could also potentially affect the businesses too.
Currently El Paso County has nine businesses that fall under their regulations, however, one of those businesses, Koi's Cabaret, would be in violation of the new rules.
Wiles said it appears they've already shut down because one of his sergeants hasn't been able to contact the business owner in several weeks. Each time they went to the business it's doors were closed. Koi's Cabaret, according to the sheriff, would be in violation of the 1,000-foot policy. Since its a new business, it wouldn't be grandfathered into the regulations since a sexually oriented business would have to be continuously in operation dating back to 2008 to fall under that category.
Sexually oriented businesses only fall under the El Paso County Commissioners Court rules if they are in unincorporated areas. Municipalities, like the city of El Paso, regulate those businesses with their own rules.