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Psychic spurs change in county rule

The fortuneteller wants to start a business in Hernando but is tripped up by a rule county lawyers say is unconstitutional.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


Jeanette Johns didn't need her tarot cards to predict tough times lay ahead in her effort to open shop in Hernando County.

All she had to do was read the county code.

For close to 20 years, county government has required anyone seeking a fortuneteller's license to live in the county at least two years and be a registered voter here. Johns, the 24-year-old owner of Psychic Reader and Advisor, resides in Pasco County.

"I wasn't going to up and move from one county to the other," she said. "It's a little bit difficult because you can't register to vote in two counties."

Neither should she have to, the county legal staff has determined.

Pulled into the picture after Johns complained in January, Assistant County Attorney Kent Weissinger quickly recognized the prerequisite is unlikely to survive any court challenge.

"Florida courts have held durational residency requirements such as these (are) unconstitutional," Weissinger wrote Thursday in a memorandum to the County Commission.

He has recommended the commission change the ordinance to allow any Florida resident who meets all other local standards, such as proof of "good moral character," to gain a fortunetelling permit. The board will consider on Tuesday whether to schedule a public hearing on the amendment for Feb. 20.

"We told the clerk (of the Circuit Court) a couple of years ago we probably couldn't enforce this provision," Weissinger said of the voting registration restriction.

Commission chairman Chris Kingsley, who brought the issue to the Legal Department's attention, said the restrictive ordinance was created years ago to protect residents from rip-offs.

"We're going from there not necessarily to make it easier, but to make it fair," Kingsley said.

Updating the ordinance to reflect acceptable residency and voting registration rules makes perfect sense, Commissioner Nancy Robinson said.

Concerns about fly-by-nights and other schemes remain.

Commissioner Betty Whitehouse, for instance, noted that a local radio program frequently highlights scams by "astrology people" and folks who believe they were taken advantage of. The commission needs to keep that in mind as it moves forward, she said.

Johns shared that view. The idea of background checks and reference letters for the applicants helps keep the profession honest, she said.

"That kind of keeps all the riffraff out," Johns said. "You don't want somebody who's not going to stand by their work."

If she gets a Hernando County license, she would not have to worry about the less reputable members of her trade. The county has issued only one fortuneteller license since 1996, and that one is not active.

Johns has no criminal record in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and she pledges to stand by her work. She said she has no formal training, and that she relies on a natural psychic "gift" shared with her great-grandmother.

She questioned the Hernando County rule simply because she wants to expand her palmistry and tarot card reading business here to better reach new clients and existing ones who cannot make it to Pasco County. With the opening of the Suncoast Parkway and the expected resulting growth, Johns said, it makes good sense. Her business would be along State Road 50.

"I'm sure anybody would think about expanding their business there," she said.

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