COLUMBUS - Hoping to shelve a new law restricting their operations before it can take effect, strip-club owners and their performers have launched a repeal petition effort.
Ohio's adult entertainment industry has created a political action committee called Citizens for Community Standards, a play on the name of the conservative Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values that championed the new law limiting the hours of such businesses and imposing a stricter "no-touch" rule.
Sandy Theis, a consultant for the clubs, said the money behind the effort to put the issue to voters on Nov. 6 will initially come from club owners, but she believes there will be public support.
"I was surprised at the public support for the dancers and their opposition to pesky conservatives from Cincinnati telling the rest of the state what to do," she said. "People don't like that."
Citizens for Community Values gathered enough signatures of valid voters last year to force the issue into lawmakers' laps. The group had threatened to take its proposed law directly to voters if lawmakers failed to act.
The resulting law requires strip clubs, X-rated theaters, adult book and video stores, and other "sexually oriented businesses" to close their doors between midnight and 6 a.m. Clubs with liquor licenses allowing them to remain open until 2 a.m. could do so, but no fully nude entertainment would be permitted during those two extra hours.
Performers or patrons who violate a tougher "no-touch" rule while the performer is still nude or semi-nude 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 the genitals, pubic region, or 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.
Critics of the law have questioned its constitutionality and have argued it could make criminals of people who simply shake hands or tap another on the shoulder while a dancer is still undressed.
The measure overwhelmingly passed both chambers, and Gov. Ted Strickland, while questioning the bill's necessity, opted to allow it to become law without his signature.
"The law is clearly constitutional," said David Miller, vice president of Community Values. "Numerous cases attest to that. Our own governor said that if he thought it was constitutionally suspect, he would have vetoed it."
The law is set to take effect Sept. 4 unless the repeal effort succeeds in filing at least 242,366 valid signatures of registered voters, including 1,000 to initially put proposed petition language before the attorney general.
Dancer Bianca Tate said she recently drove across the state to dance at a club in Kentucky to help pay her bills because business is already off at Cleveland's Hustler Club where she usually works. She said some patrons have assumed the law is already in effect.
"There is a lot of misinformation out there," she said. "Some of the customers are afraid to walk in the door."
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