COLUMBUS - Despite some lawmakers calling the matter "absurd," the Ohio House yesterday overwhelmingly approved a bill imposing new restrictions on the operations of strip clubs, adult bookstores, and other "sexually oriented businesses."
More than 20 female adult entertainers watched from the balcony in their pink T-shirts emblazoned with "Dancers for Democracy" as the chamber voted 73-24 across party lines to impose a stricter "no-touch rule" in strip clubs and force many adult businesses to close between midnight and 6 a.m.
"This belongs in Anatomy 101," Rep. Bob Hagan (D., Youngstown) said. "We're talking about buttocks here. How do we measure that? Do we take calipers into strip joints? It's absurd, absolutely absurd."
The issue was placed before the General Assembly as a proposed citizen-initiated statute after the conservative Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values gathered some 120,000 signatures of registered voters. The group would still have the option of gathering another 120,000 by early August to put the bill's original, stricter version before voters.
Rep. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) said lawmakers were not acting as the "toady" or "hand-maiden" of CCV by bringing forward a pared-back version of what he characterized originally as an "overly zealous bill."
"If you think it is proper that the young ladies who are working their way through college, supporting their children, seeking a higher education while they're dancing for the patrons' entertainment should be groped and fondled by the patrons when they are in a state of nudity or semi-nudity, then go ahead and vote 'no,'•" he said.
The bill eliminates CCV's original proposal to require dancers to keep a 6-foot bubble between them and patrons at all times, even when clothed or in the parking lot, and substitutes a "no-touch" rule. If dancers or patrons should touch the other while the performers are nude or semi-nude, they could be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.
If the touch involves a "specified anatomical area," defined as genitals, the pubic region, buttocks, and a portion of the female breast, the charge would be elevated to a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The bill also requires strip clubs, adult book and video stores, adult theaters, cabarets, and other "sexually oriented business" to close at midnight unless they have a liquor license allowing them to stay open until 2 a.m. Even then, no fully nude performances could take place during those two hours.
The Senate is expected to pass the measure, having overwhelmingly supported the stricter CCV proposal last month.
Keith Dailey, spokesman for Gov. Ted Strickland, said no decision has been made as to whether the governor will sign the bill if it reaches his desk. An ordained minister, the governor has questioned why the issue has gotten such priority while other weighty issues remain on the legislature's table.
Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island), chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, suggested majority Republicans were caving in to political pressure from the conservative CCV.
"I believe this is a primary vote, not a general election vote...," he said. "The fact of the matter is they're not coming after me. They're coming after the other side of the aisle. They made that quite clear two years ago when they threatened the Senate president that if he did not act, there would be political retribution."
After the vote, House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said there have been no threats and that he has had no discussions with CCV on the issue. When asked, he said he "might" have visited such an establishment himself in "my younger years."
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