Politics & Government

Restrictions on strip clubs, sex shops win initial OK

TOPEKA — Restrictions on strip clubs, stores that sell sex toys and other sexually oriented businesses in Kansas won first-round approval Tuesday in the state House, as critics told majority Republicans they were drifting away from their party's small-government position.

The bill, advanced on a voice vote, contains the proposed Community Defense Act, which imposes statewide limits on the locations and hours of operation of adult businesses. The House expects to take final action Wednesday, sending the measure to the Senate.

The legislation would require adult businesses to remain closed from midnight to 6 a.m. and prohibit new businesses within 1,000 feet of the property line of existing, similar businesses or any school, library, day care center or house of worship. There would be a "no touch" rule for employees and customers, but strip clubs and adult cabarets could still serve alcohol. Semi-nude dancers at clubs would have to keep at least 6 feet away from their customers.

Supporters of the bill said they're trying to protect Kansans from any damage to communities from adult businesses, which they said include blight, lower property values and higher crime. They said small communities often can't afford to resist adult businesses that are willing to file lawsuits to challenge local restrictions or zoning decisions.

"This bill protects the rural, low-population areas, very much like my district, that don't have resources to fight this battle in court," said Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona.

Many critics have argued the bill isn't necessary and that the regulation of adult businesses is best left to cities and counties. But during Tuesday's debate, they tried to appeal to Republicans, whose 92-33 majority in the House includes many conservatives who have argued that government is too intrusive and needs to lessen its regulation of private businesses.

Rep. Bob Bethell, R-Alden, a longtime Baptist minister, said he doesn't like sexually oriented businesses but is wary of the bill.

"I listen to the principles of the Republican Party, which are smaller government, no mandates, local control, choices," he said.

Knox acknowledged that he's spoken often in favor of smaller, less intrusive government and even has said, "We don't need government to be our mama."

"But there's another American principle that's just as important," he said. "It's traditional family values."

Phillip Cosby, executive director of the Kansas City-area office of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, said he expects House approval to give the bill momentum in the Senate.

"I'm very optimistic," he said.

But Philip Bradley, a lobbyist for clubs, bars and other businesses serving alcohol, said the bill will force extensive renovations by club owners and then take away much of their business by forcing them to close at midnight. He also said supporters of the measure are basing their arguments about the harm caused by such businesses on studies from other states.

"Those things are all incorrect in Kansas," he said. "There's less clubs than there used to be. They're not gathered together. Their property values have not gone down."

Supporters of the bill made one concession to operators of strip clubs and adult cabarets, removing a provision that would have banned the sale of alcohol at adult businesses. An attorney for two Sedgwick County clubs said a ban would force such businesses to close.