Originally published by Kansas Reflector on March 11, 2021:
TOPEKA — Supporters of legislation that would restrict drinking, nudity and touching at strip clubs say sweeping changes to the industry are necessary to crack down on illegal activities.
House Bill 2403 establishes the Community Defense Act, which would regulate where a sexually oriented business can be located, limit hours of operation and ban alcoholic beverages on the premises. The bill mirrors a Missouri law passed in 2010 and upheld by the state supreme court in 2011.
Phillip Cosby, of the Kansas American Family Action, helped write the Missouri law. He said the bill would reduce secondary effects caused by strip clubs, like sex trafficking of underage women.
“We all know the sexualization of our culture. We all know the tragedy of human trafficking,” Cosby said. “If you’re serious about trafficking, if you’re serious about sexually transmitted diseases, by criminal activity, the innate variation of alcohol in these environments, this bill is sound and reasonable.”
The legislation heard Thursday by the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, chaired by Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, is not new. Similar legislation has been introduced and rejected multiple times, with the rationale being maintaining local authorities’ regulations over these entities.
The committee also took up proposed legislation easing liquor laws for certain clubs and organizations in Kansas.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court case Renton v. Playtime Theaters Inc., state legislatures have leeway to regulate the negative secondary effects of adult businesses. Evidence “reasonably believed to be relevant” can be relied upon to address these negative effects.
The bill would ban full nudity, and only allow partial nudity only on a fixed stage at least 18 inches from the floor and six feet from all patrons. Semi-nude employees would not be allowed to touch a patron. Strip clubs would have to cease operations between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Sexually oriented businesses could not be established within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, day care facilities, libraries, parks, residences, or other sexually oriented businesses.
Those found in repeated violation of these new rules could face closure of up to two years and a fine up to $25,000.
Jeanette Pryor, policy advocate for the Kansas Catholic Conference, said work done on an anti-human trafficking task force indicated these sexually oriented establishments were a significant driving force behind human trafficking.
“If passed, the Community Defense Act will not only curtail businesses that significantly harm their local communities and destabilize our families, but it will disrupt an industry of the culture of death that is predicated precisely on the buying and selling of other human beings as objects,” Pryor said.
Kansas currently ranks 15th in the county for human trafficking, with a rate of 3.15 people per 100,000 thousand. Only 4% of sex trafficking cases are ever identified, meaning the large majority go unnoticed.
However, Philip Bradley, a lobbyist representing club owners and opponents of the bill, said this legislation would not directly address the concerns proponents have. Rather, the bill is seeking to answer an issue that does not exist or is already being addressed by the local government, he said.
He said counties like Johnson and Wyandotte already had local provisions making it nearly impossible to establish a new strip club. He cautioned that passing this legislation may supersede these ordinances.
“This bill has appeared several times, and every time it has appeared the legislature in their wisdom has decided that local groups are dealing with this issue as they stand,” Bradley said.
A second bill heard before the committee would allow class A clubs to sell liquor during special events. Under the measure, veterans’ organizations like the American Legion could sell liquor to non-club members when providing 48-hour notice to the Kansas Alcoholic Beverage Control.
An identical bill passed out of the Senate without opposition in 2020 but died in the House, in part because of COVID-19. This year, Senate Bill 126 passed 36-1 in the Senate.
Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said the American Legion and others are suffering financially from dwindling membership and the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are struggling to keep their doors open, he said.
The bill would provide these posts a way to keep revenue up by hosting weddings or other special functions and selling alcohol to those in attendance, Olson said.
“We’re losing the American legions. We’ve lost veterans because they’ve passed, and so they’re seeing a shrinking number of veterans to support these posts,” Olson said. “This is another way for them to increase the revenue to be able to keep the post up for the veterans that have served in foreign wars.”
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