Politics & Government

New attempt to limit adult stores begins

TOPEKA — Kansas residents who want to stop lap dances in strip clubs and keep stores selling adult videos and sex toys from proliferating launched a new effort Monday to persuade lawmakers to impose statewide restrictions on sexually oriented businesses.

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee began hearings on a bill to enact a "Community Defense Act," and it's expected to debate the measure within a week.

The bill would prevent new sexually oriented businesses within 1,000 feet of an existing sexually oriented business or school, library, day care center or house of worship. The measure would ban alcohol in strip clubs, require semi-nude dancers to keep at least 6 feet away from club patrons and impose a "no touch" rule for employees and customers at sexually oriented businesses.

Sexually oriented businesses would be required to stay closed from midnight to 6 a.m., and no employee could intentionally appear "in a state of nudity."

"Our sense of safety, wholesomeness and innocence is evaporating," said Phillip Cosby, executive director of the Kansas City-area office of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families. "Something has changed in our culture. It is the sexualization of that culture."

Cosby, a retired Army master sergeant from Overland Park who's become a leading Kansas advocate of new restrictions on sexually oriented businesses, said there's ample evidence that sexually oriented businesses breed crime and lower property values, especially when they're clustered together.

Last year, such arguments led the House to approve a similar measure. But in the Senate, where some members complained that they didn't have enough to time to review it, the vote was 20-20.

Critics of such proposals believe strip clubs and adult stores are best regulated by cities and counties. Charles O'Hara, a Wichita attorney who represents two adult cabarets, said law enforcement agencies and government officials in his area have worked together on regulations that have prevented crime and other problems.

He also warned against the proposed ban on alcohol at strip clubs, saying the state has more control over businesses that sell alcohol — and more power to intervene when there are problems. A ban also will put clubs out of business, he said.

"If this passes, they can't function," he said. "Most of these people own their own businesses. They actually own — they've bought land and everything like that."

Two committee members, freshman Republican Reps. Amanda Grosserode of Lenexa and John Rubin of Shawnee, wondered whether imposing state restrictions would drive sexually oriented businesses underground.

"If this industry is driven underground, it becomes harder to regulate," said Rubin, an attorney and retired federal administrative judge.

But Scott Bergthold, a Chattanooga, Tenn., attorney who's successfully defended a similar Missouri law, said small communities often don't have the financial resources for lawsuits from the adult entertainment industry if it fights restrictions. Also, he said, if one community imposes tough restrictions, sexually oriented businesses can proliferate in another community nearby.

He called the Kansas proposal "a well-thought out and well-reasoned set of regulations."

"It's much more efficient and much more effective to have them done at the state level," Bergthold said. "It especially protects the smaller, under-funded local governments."