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Manatee County may crack down on strip clubs

MANATEE — Happy Hour at local strip clubs just won’t be the same if Manatee County begins enforcing its sexually oriented business rules over the next few months.

Manatee’s ordinance, adopted in 2005, prohibits the on-site sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages by any customer or employee of sexually oriented businesses. Manatee’s ordinance allows exotic dancers to wear less clothing, but prohibits them from dancing within six feet of customers.

The county and local strip club owners came to an agreement three years ago that allowed those businesses to operate under the county’s old rules while courts ruled on the constitutionality of such laws. Other sexually oriented businesses, like adult bookstores, have been subject to the 2005 ordinance.

In September, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court decision that affirmed the constitutionality of a similar Hillsborough County ordinance that prohibits exotic dancers from touching customers. With that ruling out of the way, Manatee attorneys are asking federal court judges to do the same.

“We feel very confident the ordinance will pass all constitutional muster because we were very careful when we drafted it, and we used a specialist attorney whose only area of law is in this business,” said Jim Minix, chief assistant county attorney. He said a similar ruling could come down sometime within the next two months.

Judge James Whittemore “has almost no other choice but to rule in the favor of the county on the constitutionality of our ordinance based on the 11th Circuit Court’s decision and many other cases we cited in our motion,” Minix said.

Dancers and the owners of three local strip clubs — Peek-A-Boo Lounge, Cleopatra’s and Paper Moon — would also have to be licensed with the county. There would be new minimum size requirements for the rooms in which they perform and there could be no private dance rooms.

Manatee County now is asking a federal court in Tampa for a summary judgment against the strip clubs.

Luke Lirot, a Clearwater attorney who represents Hillsborough and Manatee adult clubs, could not be reached Tuesday.

Violators may be punished by a maximum of 60 days in county jail and a $500 fine for each day of an offense.

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