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Stripper registration barred by ND state law, throwing wrench in metrowide plans

FARGO - A North Dakota state law will halt efforts in Fargo and West Fargo to license adult entertainers, dashing plans to have similar registration laws across the metro area.

"At the 11th hour, what we discover is that there is a state statute that reserves the ability to regulate obscenity to the state and the state's laws," Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes said.

Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead had been studying for months new laws in each city to license strippers, escorts and exotic dancers to help curb illegal activity often paired with the adult industry, like prostitution.

The ordinance was approved earlier this week in Moorhead, where adult entertainers and businesses that provide such services will be required to pay a $250 licensing fee and go through a police background check. Failure to register is a misdemeanor.

Both Moorhead Police Chief Ebinger and Ternes had expressed concern that without a law in each city, exotic dancers would shift to whatever community didn't require registration.

But Ternes and Mike Reitan, West Fargo's assistant police chief, said they are confident the disparity won't send exotic dancers flocking to North Dakota.

"I'm not overly concerned that somehow all of the adult entertainment issues or the problems associated with them are going to find their way into Fargo and West Fargo," Ternes said.

The state law in question says "no political subdivision shall enact new, or enforce existing, ordinances or resolutions regulating or prohibiting the dissemination of obscene materials, or controlling obscene performances."

City attorneys from West Fargo and Fargo have been combing through state law, and could possibly bring the situation to the attorney general for an opinion, Reitan said.

"The question really is, the law talks about regulating obscenity," Reitan said. "And are we truly attempting to regulate obscenity or are we trying to regulate a business practice?"

Ternes said it's likely a city ordinance won't come until after the state law is changed. It's too late to introduce a bill during this legislative session, so it would have to wait until 2015, he said.

Prostitution is still a growing problem in Fargo, Ternes said, so police here will "no question" continue to perform undercover stings. "Doing them more or less really depends upon how prevalent the problem continues to be," he said.

Reitan said the West Fargo Police Department doesn't have the staff for the "labor intensive and time consuming" sting operations, but he added that he doesn't believe prostitution is a huge issue for his city right now.

Ternes said as long as a plan is in place to continue discussing ordinances on the North Dakota side, he doesn't believe the issue will worsen.

"As long as we at least have a plan in place it allows us to do something in the future. I think we'll be fine," he said.