story by Ryan Saylor
A move by an Oklahoma state representative could potentially limit any future growth of strip clubs and other adult oriented businesses in the eastern Oklahoma areas near the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas regions.
Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Chouteau, earlier this month urged Gov. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., to call a special session to limit where adult-oriented businesses could open in rural, non-incorporated sections of the state.
According to Sherrer, construction of a commercial building in rural Mayes County — what he described as the heart of Oklahoma Amish country — lead to his request of the first-term governor. There has been no confirmation of what the building will be used for, though KOKI-TV 23 in Tulsa confirmed that the owner of the land is Hai Ying, who the television station reported owned three adult-themed businesses in other states.
Sherrer told The City Wire his goal was to introduce a solution for his constituents at a statewide level to keep an adult business from opening since the county does not have zoning to keep a strip club or adult oriented businesses from opening.
"The request from my constituents was to find a solution at the statewide level to set up a regulatory scheme, if you will, for adult sex-oriented businesses (establishing clear boundaries) between such businesses and property that is used for residential or church purposes."
He has proposed legislation that would limit adult-themed businesses from being closer than 1,000 feet from a home or church in unincorporated areas. The law, he said, would be based around ordinances already in affect in Rogers and Washington Counties in Oklahoma.
But Sherrer's call for the governor to hold a special session appears to be dead on arrival. Reached for comment, a spokesman for Fallin referenced comments by her communications director, Alex Weintz, to KOKI in which he made clear a session would not occur since she believes the issues raised by Sherrer could be addressed locally. Her office also noted the cost of a special session potentially running hundreds of thousands of dollars per day.
Sherrer said even though Fallin will not call the special session he requested in early July, the issue is not dead. The Oklahoma legislature is scheduled to return for its next regular session in February, Sherrer said, meaning he will have an opportunity to introduce the legislation and see whether his colleagues in the House and Senate are willing to take up the issue.
So far, no organized efforts by any adult entertainment lobby have risen to oppose Sherrer's proposal. In fact, the owner of Cheyenne Gentlemen's Club just west of downtown Fort Smith in Sequoyah County told The City Wire he did not think the proposed regulations would hurt businesses at all.
"I think there's a place for them and it needs to be (away from neighborhoods)," said owner Preston Cloud, who has owned the only strip club on either side of the border in the Fort Smith-area for 23 years and owns others in Tulsa County.
"In Tulsa, they do (have zoning laws). Tulsa is limited to the licensed areas, the zoned areas. We don't have a problem with that. We know where the zoning is and that's where we do business," he said, adding that it would be easy to comply with Sherrer's proposed law should it gain traction during next year's legislative session.
But gaining traction is going to be tough, the Chouteau Democrat said, calling the legislation "dicey."
"What I'm finding is when a Democrat comes off and does something like this, he's big government and anti-business and anti-property rights. When a Republican does this, it is a stand for family values," he said. "Depending on the level of spin you want to put on it, it's kind of dicey because you have the folks. … what I'm experiencing is the exact same population that was wanting me as a state representative to get something done is the exact demographic of people who oppose more regulation and bureaucracy."
In spite of the accusations that the legislation he plans to introduce could be considered "big government," Sherrer said he would introduce it anyway.
"Constituents asked for me to do what I could and I tried to call the special session to do something immediately," he said. "I told those folks I would file legislation and I intend to keep my word on that."
As for Cloud, the strip club owner serving the Fort Smith market, he said he had no complaints about the proposed law.
"The law works for me, you know?"