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In Tampa: 6 Foot Rule Governs Bikini Bar Dancers; Adult Stores: No Private Booths

TAMPA – Three Hillsborough County ordinances governing adult businesses are legal, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

If the ruling stands, dancers at bikini bars will have to stay six feet away from patrons, and the selling or drinking of alcohol would be prohibited at adult businesses.

Also, adult video stores would be prohibited from having private viewing booths, and workers would have to pass a criminal background check.

Thursday’s ruling isn’t quite the last call for lap dances.

The businesses that sued the county to strike the ordinances will appeal, said Luke Lirot, a First Amendment attorney representing three bikini bars.

He said he doesn’t expect county officials to start enforcing the ordinances until after all legal challenges are exhausted.

“We’re certainly disturbed by the ruling,” Lirot said.

County attorneys could not be reached for comment late Thursday afternoon.

Commissioners approved the tough new ordinances in September 2006. They hired an outside attorney to help craft them so they would survive legal challenges, conducted a lengthy public hearing and included language that stated the proposed law was not meant to impede dancers’ First Amendment rights.

The rules have no impact on clubs in Temple Terrace, Plant City or in Tampa, which enacted a six-foot buffer between patrons and nude dancers in 1999.

They would affect the scantily clad dancers at three bikini bars: Tootsies on East Hillsborough Avenue, Showgirls on U.S. 92 East in Plant City and Showgirls on Brandon Boulevard in Valrico.

The regulations won’t outlaw the businesses, just stringently regulate them.

“There is no question from a reading of the three ordinances that they do not constitute a ban on sexually oriented businesses, but rather regulations on time, place and manner,” U.S. Judge Richard A. Lazzara wrote in his ruling.

He wrote that the regulations reduce “negative secondary effects” of adult businesses, but still allow for freedom of expression.

Florida Family Association Executive Director David Caton praised the decision. “It’s all designed for public safety,” he said.

“I would hope that they would honor the law and not continue to fight it,” he said of the businesses. But he said he expects the ruling to be appealed.

“That has been the track record of the adult business industry for the last 30 years,” Caton said. He predicted the ordinances would survive the legal challenges.

Lirot predicted the opposite outcome. “That’s why they make appeals courts,” he said.

It was an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that factored into Lazzara’s decision, Lirot said. That ruling said courts don’t have to take into account evidence offered by adult businesses that they don’t create any “adverse secondary effects” such as crime.

Lirot called that ruling “repugnant to the First Amendment.”

Last month, Hillsborough County and the owners of the Showgirls bikini bar in Valrico settled another court case for roughly $49,000. That case centered on actions the county took prior to the bar’s opening in February 2006. Showgirls accused Hillsborough of manipulating its procedures to try to keep the club closed.

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