A state ban on Internet cafes last year created confusion for local law enforcement about how to dismantle the businesses, but the City Commission is trying to remedy that.
In a meeting last week, Gainesville city commissioners unanimously approved a six-month ban on zoning permits for Internet cafes per the request of Gainesville Police.
Certain loopholes in the law permitted Gainesville to grant zoning permits to about six cafes, said GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias, although none are currently operational.
When the state legislature banned all Internet cafes last year, it tasked local law enforcement agencies with keeping tabs on remaining cafes.
“Even though there’s a statewide ban, no one really understands the law yet,” Tobias said.
Tobias said the temporary ban on permits will provide GPD with the time it needs to ensure it is enforcing the law correctly, but it hopes the city will make the ban permanent after six months.
“The legislature and governor thought that this was a big enough problem to enact a new law immediately,” he said. “We all know gambling was at the center of these places. We hope that the city will make a permanent ban… not allowing any of these places to get (zoning) permits.”
City Commissioner Susan Bottcher said she also would like to see the ban become permanent due to difficulties in regulation.
“Unless you want to station a policeman at each of these sites to make sure they’re operating legally and make sure other nefarious conduct isn’t happening,” she said, “because they tend to be highly problematic for law enforcement.”
Bottcher said that the city granted the six permits after the statewide ban only because some owners know how to describe their businesses in a way that circumvents the ban.
“We walk a very fine line between wanting to be open to entrepreneurs who want to open a business here, but we also have to recognize and anticipate when there’s people who deliberately look for loopholes in the law,” she said.
Gainesville City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins agreed that Internet cafes have proved to be problematic for the city and those who frequent them.
“The problems we see with that are robbery, loitering and taking advantage of folks who are not in a good financial position,” he said.
[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 1/23/2014 under the headline "Internet cafe permit ban buys time for local law enforcement"]