Missouri on Verge of 'Killing' Adult Businesses in the State

JEFFERSON CITY, MO—In a move that one Missouri Democrat said would “kill small business” in Missouri, the state legislature voted Thursday evening to send a bill to the governor’s desk that will impose truly draconian restrictions on adult book stores and strip clubs in a state whose mid-year budget shortfall hovers around the $700 million mark.

If signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon, as expected, the bill, sponsored by State Senator Matt Bartle (R, Lee's Summit), would prohibit full nudity and limit semi-nudity in sex-oriented businesses throughout the state. Among other restrictions, adult businesses would also be forced to close between midnight and 6am, and would be prohibited from serving alcohol.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, the bill not only violates free speech protections, but is also intended solely to put adult business in the state out of businesses.

"These laws appear to be designed to drive these businesses out of business," ACLU representative John Coffman said in a February interview. "At some point, the over-regulation of a business simply because you don't like that business or you don't like the content that's being viewed in those businesses would violate the first amendment." 

Sen. Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat, opposed the bill, saying that in his city alone, the law would lead to the closure of 13 businesses and put hundreds of people out of work at a time when the city and the state need all the jobs they can get.

"There is a business owner in my district who came to me and said, 'If this bill goes into effect without any changes, I have 140 employees that are going to be looking for work," Justus said during debate in the Senate chamber Thursday. "Tonight, we're going to kill an industry that brings in anywhere from $7 to $10 million in revenue...we're going to kill small business tonight."

But that prospect held little sway with the majority of Missouri lawmakers, who voted 27-4 in passing the measure that sponsor Bartle said would “attempt to reduce the opportunity to misbehave, so that a lot of these secondary effects can be contained, including blight, property value drops, littering of sexual materials, drug trafficking, prostitution, a lot of those things that tend to gravitate to those businesses.” The bill had passed the House’s 118-28 earlier in the day.

According to Bartle, who has been trying to get similar versions of the bill passed into law since he was first elected to office in 2003, mixing alcohol and nudity is the fatal cocktail that leads to the alleged blight.

“Most human beings understand that if you mix alcohol and women dancing in the nude, that’s a tough combo,” he said. “Bad things happen.”

But according to the Kansas City Star, banning alcohol is just the tip of the iceberg.

“’Juice bars’ that don’t sell alcohol, but present nude dancers, would be outlawed. Semi-nude dancers would have to stay at least 6 feet from patrons, and no touching would be allowed,” the paper reported.

“All that lap dancing stuff, that’s gone,” Bartle said.

Adult businesses will not be allowed to operate within 1,000 feet of a school, church, day-care facility, library, park, residence or another adult business,” says the paper, and operators would have to have an “unobstructed view … of every area of the premises. The House inexplicably also added a provision, which the Senate failed to strip out of the bill that will prohibit mud wrestling when at least one participant is semi-nude.

While a spokesperson for the governor has said that the bill will likely be signed into law, a legal challenge is almost certain, according to Dick Bryant, an attorney who represents adult entertainment businesses. 

When the case goes to trial, perhaps someone will be in a position to ask Sen. Bartle why—if it is so dangerous to mix alcohol and nudity in an entertainment setting—it would not be equally necessary to shut down the legislature when lawmakers go to lunch during the work week and perhaps imbibe a refreshing alcoholic beverage or two before returning to vote.

Colleague and AVN Senior Legal Editor Mark Kernes has just suggested that Missouri legislators should now be forced to take a breathalyzer test before voting. Is there a second?