When it comes to controlling sexually oriented businesses, Salt Lake County has just joined the late 20th century - at least according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the sheriff's office isn't sure that's something to cheer about.County commissioners voted last week to adopt an ordinance controlling the businesses and defining what will be allowed and what will be outlawed in unincorporated areas. In some cases, the law is more permissive than some county officials would have liked.
For example, someone now can legally hire a person to appear totally nude, provided it is done for artistic modeling purposes. The person appearing nude must sign a contract 36 hours in advance, and the paying customer must never touch the nude person. No one under 18 can be allowed to see the nude person. The nude person must stay at least five feet from all other people.
Female dancers in places that serve alcohol still must wear small coverings over their breasts.
"What kind of message does this send to the public?" asked Sheriff's Capt. Joe Gee. He said Sheriff Pete Hayward prefers a more restrictive law. But the U.S. Supreme Court has made that impossible, saying certain things must be allowed under the First Amendment.
"We had an ordinance for escort services, but it was declared unconstitutional," Gee said.
Since then, the county has had no ordinance governing sexually oriented businesses. Gee agrees an ordinance is needed. So do other county officials. They just wish it could be tougher.
"I wish we could do more," said Commissioner Tom Shimizu. "I wish we could make it so we could not have them (sexually oriented businesses) at all."
Gee held up a copy of the classified section of a local newspaper on which he had circled items in the personals column that were sexually oriented. He said sheriff's deputies would have to contact everyone offering such services to make sure they are properly licensed and that they do not overstep the bounds of the new law.
Gee said the sheriff will need four new deputies and a new sergeant to keep up with the extra work. "In no way can we police these agencies with our present staff," he said.
Gee said he didn't think the ordinance would lead to a boom in such businesses. The new law sets stiff fees to obtain licenses and requires owners of the businesses to post $2,000 bonds.
Not everyone is upset with the ordinance. County health officials are happy because it will require all employees of escort services to be tested every three months for sexually transmitted diseases. They currently are tested once a year.