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Judge refuses to stop Mo. law on sexual businesses

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The nudity must stop at Missouri strip clubs. So must the lap dances and booze. And all sexually oriented businesses must abide by a midnight closing time.

Missouri’s wide-ranging limitations on sexual businesses will take effect Saturday after a state judge on Friday denied a request from a coalition of sexual store owners and erotic dancers to temporarily block the new law.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem [pictured] said the coalition had failed to show their lawsuit is likely to ultimately succeed or that they will suffer irreparable harm by allowing the law to take effect.

“The law will undoubtedly change the business practices” of strip clubs, adult video and book stores and other businesses of a sexual nature, Beetem wrote in his ruling, “and they will likely suffer some economic loss.

“But economic loss alone does not alter the analysis of the legal issues,” Beetem said.

During a court hearing Thursday, an attorney for the adult entertainment industry said hundreds — or even thousands — of jobs were at stake, as well as millions of dollars of business investments. He argued the new law violates First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression and was passed in violation of the Missouri Constitution because a legislative committee didn’t meet to hear a challenge to its estimated financial impact.

Attorneys representing Missouri noted that similar laws have been upheld elsewhere and said the Legislature can choose not to follow its own procedures.

Although the law will take effect Saturday, the lawsuit will continue. Beetem plans to meet with attorneys next week to schedule a trial date.

Attorney General Chris Koster issued a statement praising the judge’s denial of a temporary restraining order against the new law.

“We will continue to argue on behalf of its constitutionality if necessary,” Koster said.

Gov. Jay Nixon, who signed the legislation, has traveled the state promoting job expansions in other industries. He expressed little concern Friday about the potential loss of jobs for strippers and others in the adult entertainment industry.

“I do not believe that the economy of the future of my state will be built on that industry,” Nixon said.

The law bans new sexual businesses from locating within 1,000 feet of homes, schools, churches, libraries, parks, day cares or other sexually oriented businesses. To ensure its new hands-off policy, it mandates that seminude employees remain on a stage at least 6 feet from customers. It also does away with closed-door viewing booths for pornographic movies, requiring that patrons remain within the clear view of employees.

Existing businesses have 180 days to comply with the remodeling requirements, though the 6-foot buffer for scantily clad dancers takes effect immediately along with rest of the law.

Businesses or individuals that don’t abide by the requirements could face misdemeanor charges punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail.

Seeking to capitalize while it can, Rumors Cabaret in Columbia has been running radio ads this week touting a lap-dance liquidation sale. But owner Rob Call said Friday that he wasn’t sure whether to even open for business Saturday night.

“By the letter of the law, a great deal of things about the way we operate will have to change,” said Call, who features between six and 15 strippers nightly and has remained open until 4 a.m. “We can’t have nude dancers anymore, we can’t do lap dances anymore, we can’t be open after midnight anymore — that alone is going to take a large chunk of our business away.”

Gene Gruender, who operates Passions video and book stores in Columbia, Boonville and Marshall, said two of his overnight employees would be out of work because of the midnight closing time. He said the new restrictions on the adult entertainment industry are so severe that they essentially eliminate its purpose.

“Now in Missouri, if someone wants to see a little skin, instead of going to a strip club, they’ll go to a public pool,” Gruender said.


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