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Bill touches strip clubs

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:43 PM

A bill passed out of an Ohio House earlier this week echoes the old saying "nothing good ever happens after midnight."

The proposed law affects strips clubs, forcing any club without liquor licenses to close at midnight and banning full nude dancing after midnight. In addition, the bill prohibits nude dancers from having physical contact with patrons or each other.

The bill has been watered down since its introduction. Originally, the legislation called for a 6-foot barrier between strippers and patrons and prohibited all nude and semi-nude dancing after midnight. Clubs with a liquor license will be allowed to have semi-nude dancing until 2 a.m.

State Rep. Matt Barrett (D-Amherst) said he originally opposed the bill because he felt the earlier provisions were unconstitutional. He said he supported the bill in principle and voted for the revised version on Wednesday.

The bill is being pushed by the interest group Citizens for Community Values, which also backed the ballot initiative that prohibited gay marriage.

Citizens for Community Values Vice President David Miller has said he views the final version as a victory for the group.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," he said. "I don't think every bill ends up the way it began, so we think that these changes that they've made can still reach the intended goal of reducing crime."

The Reflector contacted Expressions located in Fitchville, the only strip club in Huron County, but owners refused to comment.

Under the version of the bill that passed out of the House, visitors or employees who violated the law would face misdemeanor charges.

If strip-club patrons touch nude or seminude employees in "erogenous areas" whether clothed or not, they could face a penalty of up to six months in jail. If patrons touch a nude or seminude employee anywhere else, they could receive up to 30 days in jail. The same applies to nude or seminude employees touching patron.

Owners of adult clubs did not take issue with restrictions on touching dancers in certain "anatomical areas," but they said they continued to oppose the penalties for casual touching of clothed dancers and for the economic damage they contend restrictions would cause for their industry.

A recent poll indicates that almost half of Ohio voters, 45 percent, admit to visiting a strip club. Those results break largely down gender lines with 63 percent of men and 28 percent of women responding yes, according to a poll done by Quinnipiac University of almost 1,000 Ohio voters conducted between May 8 and 13.

Ohio voters are split on whether the state should regulate strip clubs, 45 in favor and 46 opposed. Those results also are split by gender, with 53 percent of women favoring the restrictions, while only 36 percent of men support them.

State Senator Sue Morano (D-Lorain) said such regulations should be made by local governments, rather than at the state level.

"The communities need to decide," she said. "If some of them want to be more strict, more power to them."

However, Barrett said local governments are hamstrung because of the threat of litigation.

Strip club owners have threatened to challenge the restrictions in court. By passing the regulations statewide, Barrett said it will be the Ohio attorney general defending the state from one lawsuit, rather than many local townships and cities fighting multiple lawsuits.

"(People) say local governments already have ability to pass this type of legislation. But not really ... they can't afford to pay $1 million in legal fees. This way, one defense is good for everybody," he said.

Strip club owners are being represented by an organization called the national Association of Club Executives. Association Executive Director Angelina Spencer recently backed off the promise that the group would sue the state over the bill. Though she said club owners and the dancers' group would continue protesting its criminal penalties and potential economic effects as it heads back to the Senate for consideration.

The House version of the bill must be reconciled with the Senate version, which contains the more strict provisions regarding distance and the times nude dancing is permitted.

When asked if she would support the bill in the Senate, Morano expressed frustration that the Legislature had wasted so much time on the stripper bill.

"There's so much work that needs to be done ... we could have spent a lot of time could be spent on other things."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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