Strip Club Owners Might Sue Florida Over New Age Rules

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—A group of Florida-based strip clubs and adult entertainment venues is preparing to sue the state government for recently adopting a law that requires all performers to be at least 21 years old, reports Bloomberg Law. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill (HB) 7063 into law at a press conference in Coral Gables last week.

The approval of the bill was presented as a measure to counter human trafficking in Florida.

The bill enters force on July 1, 2024, so litigation is expected to be filed in the coming weeks. Bloomberg Law senior correspondent Chris Marr reports that attorneys in Fort Lauderdale are preparing to represent club owners and other venues to challenge the statewide law. HB 7063 broadly applies to strip clubs, burlesque shows, adult bookstores and other establishments considered legal adult entertainment under Florida obscenity statutes.

Angelina Spencer-Crisp, a public affairs professional who manages trade groups representing adult entertainment clubs nationwide and locally in Florida, told AVN that HB 7063 is a coordinated effort to limit freedoms for adults.

"They pass these laws ... saying that [human trafficking in clubs] is rampant," Spencer-Crisp said. "And, you see all these taglines in the news saying there is a correlation between strip clubs and trafficking. Am I telling you that it never happens? No, I am not saying that. But what I am saying is that based on the government's own data, it is less than 1 percent.

"Hotels show a lot more, but we don't have any bans on 18-year-olds or 19-year-olds going into hotels," she added. Spencer-Crisp then explained that her work with trade groups, like the Association of Club Executives (ACE) National and the Florida Sunshine Entertainment Association, includes coordinating and hosting educational seminars through a program called Club Owners Against Sex Trafficking (COAST).

COAST is a program that Spencer-Crisp says has reached over 20,000 professionals in the strip club industry to inform dancers, servers, managers, other talent and owners how to detect signs of human trafficking.

Spencer-Crisp highlighted the program's work in a press release distributed to news media outlets through the Florida Sunshine Entertainment Association in February 2024, when state lawmakers first introduced HB 7063.

“There is no meaningful evidence that banning 18-to-20-year-olds from work at these legitimate businesses reduces trafficking," Spencer-Crisp, a former dancer and fiction author on the side, continued. "This is like saying that all 160 state legislators must be treated as criminals if only one or two of them ever committed a crime.”

Spencer-Crisp says the evidence is lacking because law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice, lump the prevalence of trafficking in legal establishments and illegal establishments together. This is also a notable statement given that two members of Congress introduced legislation in 2023, the Study To Observe and Prevent (STOP) Human Trafficking Act. No action has been taken on the bill at the time of this writing.

The STOP Human Trafficking Act is a bipartisan measure that would direct the U.S. Attorney General to conduct prevalence studies on the rate of sex trafficking in adult entertainment clubs across the United States.

"Unfortunately, the federal government lacks the data necessary to fully understand the scope of this problem at these venues," said U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., in a 2023 press release on the act.

Spencer-Crisp also said HB 7063 is a bill derived from a coordinated effort by far-right religious conservative groups linked to the Family Research Council (FRC) and other well-funded groups classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center and GLAAD as anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups.

Aaron DiPietro, legislative director for the group Florida Family Voice, was quoted in the Bloomberg Law article referring to what he views as justification to keep HB 7063 in place. He told Bloomberg Law that he believes the law has a "solid legal basis" and could survive any potential legal challenge. However, previous cases challenging similar laws suggest otherwise, given a history of differing court rulings, notes Spencer-Crisp.  

DiPiertro's group says it's affiliated with FRC, Family Policy Alliance and other groups and operates as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. These organizations also lobby for age verification requirements for online pornography and hold significant weight in states with Republican-controlled legislative and executive branches.