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The vast majority of emphasis in the Missouri legislature this session has been on the budget. But a little-known bill aiming to regulate the adult entertainment industry has cleared the Senate and has two passionate sides fighting for and against its passage in the House. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports.
Senator Matt Bartle, a Republican from the Kansas City area, has tried for several years to get a bill passed that cracks down on the adult entertainment industry.
This year, the Senate version of that bill would prohibit any entertainer from appearing in the nude.
It would also prohibit anyone from opening up a new strip club or adult store within 1000 feet of a school, place of worship, state-licensed day care, public library, public park, residence, or another adult business.
All strip clubs and adult stores would have to close at midnight, and none would be permitted to sell alcohol or even allow it on the premises. And, there would be absolutely no touching, even of partially nude entertainers.
Right now, state law says a business can have completely nude entertainers as long as the establishment doesn’t serve alcohol. (And as for what constitutes “semi-nude,” well, you can read that for yourself on the Missouri Senate’s webpage. You can view the summary of SB 586 by clicking here.).
Senator Bartle says the bill is needed because over the past several years, there’s been a slow, yet deliberate migration of these businesses from more secluded areas to the main roadways.
"It used to be, you know, 20 years ago, these businesses congregated in certain places. Patrons could go find them, [and] they knew where they were. They kind of kept to themselves, in their zones," he said.
And, the Senator says, that so-called migration has brought a host of negative secondary effects.
"Increase in crime, [and] diminution of property values are two of the biggies that these businesses bring. And I think a lot of people felt like it just make our state look tawdry," Bartle said.
"What the senator is trying to do, frankly, is he's trying to impose his morality on those persons who want to enjoy Constitutionally protected dance," said Dick Bryant, the attorney for the Missouri Association of Club Executives, a group that lobbies for adult night clubs.
He says some jurisdictions have seen real estate near adult stores actually go up in value, and that Bartle’s bill strikes at the heart of the 1st Amendment’s protection of freedom of expression.
"The first amendment is really much more than our ability to speak words that are maybe unpopular, or to have political speech, or to have commercial speech. It is actually a right to associate. It's a right to perform. It's a right to present controversial thought," he said.
Also, Bryant says if the bill is passed and signed into law, thousands of Missourians will be out of work, starting with the businesses themselves shutting down.
And, he said, the economic fallout wouldn't stop at those four walls.
"Now all of a sudden, the guy who was delivering the Budweiser? He isn’t doing the sales he used to do. People who used to deliver napkins and tablecloths and uniforms--they're not doing business. It is just like any other business or industry that shuts down in the state," Bryant said.
The city of Springfield has its own ordinance regarding nudity: Dan Wichmer, city attorney, says it’s stricter than many other cities in the state.
I asked him what this bill would change for Springfield if it becomes state law.
"Well, it wouldn’t change much," Wichmer said.
"It would eliminate alcohol in adult oriented businesses. For us, that really only means strip clubs, adult entertainment clubs. The bulk of our adult entertainment that people think is in the city is actually outside the city limits," Wichmer said.
The other thing it would change, he said, is that it would change closing time from 1:30 a.m. to midnight.
But it would change a lot, he said, for many adult nightclubs outside the city limits: many counties don’t have anything on the books in this area.
Greene County, however, does have its own ordinance. It stipulates how many inches patrons must stay from entertainers where alcohol is served, and defines which zones such establishments must be in.
Critics of the bill say it’s not about real estate nor crime, but rather about a few conservative lawmakers hoping to quote—“legislate morality,” which they say is a slippery slope.
I asked Bartle for his reaction to that criticism.
"Some would say we’re making a moral judgement. Laws make moral determinations. They set perameters up. Our society believes that one person shouldn’t be allowed to kill another person. Well, that’s a moral judgment. That’s our job—is to, kind of, set the bar. And if we set it in a place that is either unconstitutional, then the courts will tell us, or if we set it in a place that the people don’t agree with, they’ll throw us out," Bartle said.
With just a few days remaining in this year’s session, it looks like the bill may have stalled in the House: it’s not scheduled for any hearings. Bartle did say he and supporters would consider tacking it onto another bill as an amendment if it doesn’t make it through on its own.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.