COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland said yesterday that he will allow a bill cracking down on the operation of strip clubs, adult book stores, and other "sexually oriented businesses" to become law without his signature.
The adult entertainment industry vowed to challenge the law's constitutionality in court.
"The governor believes that the most important issues facing Ohio are job creation, improving the education system, and expanding access to health care, and he wants to get the focus back on those issues," said Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey. "Had he been persuaded that this law was unconstitutional, he would have vetoed the bill."
Without a word of debate, the Ohio Senate yesterday voted 25-8 to forward the bill to the governor's desk. Among northwest Ohio lawmakers, Sens. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) and Larry Mumper (R., Marion) voted "no," while Sens. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) and Stephen Buehrer (R., Delta) supported it.
The bill would force strip clubs, adult video and book stores, X-rated theaters, and other "sexually oriented businesses" that regularly offer events like nude wrestling to close their doors between midnight and 6 a.m.
If the business has a liquor permit allowing it to serve until 2 a.m., it could remain open, but semi-nude performances at the most could take place during those two hours. Current law defines "semi-nude" as having clothing covering no more than the pubic area and the nipple of the female breast.
The bill also prohibits a nude or semi-nude performer from touching any audience member who isn't an immediate family member. Either one 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" - the genitals, pubic region, buttocks, and a portion of the female breast - the charge would be upped to a first-degree misdemeanor carrying up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. For all intents and purposes, the bill outlaws lap dances as well as tipping by slipping dollar bills into g-strings.
"Let's be honest. The real goal of this bill is to close down adult cabarets," said Charity Fickisen, chairman of Dancers for Democracy. "If you don't like strip clubs, you have the right to stay home, but you have no right to try and take away my job."
Mr. Strickland, Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland), and House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) have said they have visited a strip club at some point in their lives.
The bill was initiated via petition by the conservative, Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values after lawmakers last year watered down a similar proposal to simply authorize townships to regulate such businesses as cities already could. The organization has maintained that such businesses are magnets for prostitution, drugs, reduced property values, and other social ills, particularly during the hours they'd be forced to close.
CCV has suggested that it does not plan to follow through with its option of circulating more petitions to put the measure directly on the ballot, despite recent House action reducing its proposal of maintaining a six-feet bubble between performers and customers to a "no-touch" rule.
"CVC, to the best of my knowledge, has said it would accept what we've done," said Senate President Bill Harris (D., Ashland).
A last-minute letter to the governor from the Motion Picture Association of America objecting to the bill's inclusion of its film ratings seemed to have no impact. The association's ratings are voluntary and, until now, have had no force in law. Mr. Harris said no one had contacted him to talk about the last-minute concerns.
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